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Yang Quianyu, 37, holds up her vaccination card for the camera at Al Safa Health Center on 27th May, 2021. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: The first batch of Chinese tourists received their first dose of Sinopharm vaccine, administered by Dubai Health Authority (DHA), at Al Safa Primary Health Centre in Jumeirah on Thursday. These Chinese visitors were the first non-UAE residents to receive free COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

According to DHA, around 200 Chinese tourists, above 16 years of age, have registered for the ‘Spring Sprout Action’ vaccine programme that was launched following a meeting in March between Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Wang Yi, Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister, to set up a regional vaccination centre in the UAE.

Two doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, which received approval from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for emergency use, will be given to Chinese tourists who registered online on the Chinese Embassy and Consulate websites. Vaccines were given for free, but officials said Dh100 was charged to open health files in Dubai for the Chinese tourists.

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Zhao ChunFu, 51, from Hubei province, goes to Al Safa Health Center on 27th May, 2021 to take the Sinopharm vaccine in Dubai. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Vaccination process

Walk-in was not allowed as pre-registration was required and strict precautionary measures — including checking of body temperature, wearing of face mask and maintaining physical distancing — were enforced at the vaccination centre.

Emirati hospitality was also evident as the visitors were offered bottled drinking water with a special label printed in Chinese characters, saying ‘Welcome to Dubai’. DHA staff were also present to assist the guests while staff from the Chinese consulate were available to help with interpretation. Nurses were also resourceful in using translation apps.

The entire vaccination process for each recipient — from stage of briefing to file verification and actual inoculation — was completed in around five minutes. After the jab, the Chinese nationals were asked to stay at the centre for 30 minutes for observation, before being sent home.

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Chinese Consul-General Li Xuhang visits Al Safa Health Center on 27th May, 2021 for the Spring Sprout Action program where Chinese tourists can receive the Sinopharm vaccine in Dubai. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

‘Best birthday gift’

Chinese visitors who came on Thursday morning for the jab were very excited. One of them was Gao Chen Ying from the Fujian province of China, who said it was the best advance birthday gift she received for her 21st birthday, which is on Friday. She told Gulf News: “Tomorrow (May 28) is my birthday and I’m so happy to get vaccinated. I now feel more safe and protected. The entire vaccination process was also quick. I learnt about it after getting a WeChat message from the Chinese consulate and reading it in the news.”

Another happy tourist was Zhao Chun Fu, 51, from Hubei province, who said the injection she got from a Filipina nurse named Cheryl was painless.

Yang Quianyu, 37, who came with family and friends, proudly showed her vaccination card and said “getting the jab is the best way to make people healthy and safe”.

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Gao Chen ying, 21, Fujian province, goes to Al Safa Health Center on 27th May, 2021 to take the Sinopharm vaccine in Dubai. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Robust UAE-China relations

In a message sent to Gulf News, Chinese Consul General Li Xuhang said: “The launch of Spring Sprout Action is another example of the close cooperation between our China and the UAE.”

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and the UAE have been helping and supporting each other, by carrying out a series of close cooperation. Immediately after COVID-19 broke out, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, had a phone call with (Chinese) President Xi Jinping, expressing firm support for China’s fight against the pandemic,” Li added.

He also noted Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, displayed strong support for Wuhan in February last year. “The message ‘Wuhan Jiayou! Stay strong, Wuhan!’ brought strength and courage to the people of the two countries to fight the pandemic together,” Li underlined.

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Chinese tourists visits Al Safa Health Center on 27th May, 2021 where they take the Sinopharm vaccine as part of the Spring Sprout Action program in Dubai. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

He continued: “Chinese medical experts have also shared their experience in prevention and control, testing and treatment with their counterparts in the UAE. It also took only 14 days for China and the UAE to build a laboratory with a daily testing capacity of tens of thousands of people in Abu Dhabi. The two countries also cooperated in developing the world’s first inactivated vaccine and the UAE was the first country to approve the emergency use of China’s inactivated vaccine.”

Li said: “Now the two countries are cooperating to build a production line to manufacture Chinese COVID vaccine, which will further help the UAE to fight the pandemic. China-UAE friendship has become more solid through the test of the epidemic. China and the UAE are undoubtedly a model of international cooperation. We will spare no effort in promoting the global health community.

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Gao Chen ying, 21, Fujian province, goes to Al Safa Health Center on 27th May, 2021 to take the Sinopharm vaccine in Dubai. Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Chinese vaccine

Sinopharm is an inactivated vaccine developed by CNBG’s (China National Biotech Group) Beijing Institute of Biological Products and Wuhan Institute of Biological Products. On December 9, the UAE officially registered the inactivated vaccine developed by Sinopharm.

The vaccine has undergone four humanity trials. As inactivated vaccine, it consists of virus particles, bacteria, or other pathogens that have been grown in culture and have lost their disease-producing capacity. The inactivated virus in the vaccine cannot cause the disease. It is a dead virus, and many other vaccines around the world use an inactivated virus.

In March this year, the UAE started manufacturing Hayat-Vax, the name for the locally-produced inactivated COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sinopharm, at a facility owned by Ras Al Khaimah-based pharmaceutical firm, Julphar. The vaccine manufacturing is under the joint venture — Life Sciences and Vaccine Manufacturing in the UAE — between Sinopharm and G42, a technology company based in Abu Dhabi