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Residents wearing masks at a mall in Dubai on Sunday Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The UAE is still free from the Wuhan novel coronavirus (Wuhan-nCoV), the UAE Minister of Health, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, said on Sunday.

The minister, who was speaking during a meeting of the National Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management team, added that all necessary precautions have taken to protect the UAE from the virus that has infected nearly 2,000 people worldwide.

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, tweeted: "We’re closely following the Chinese government’s efforts to contain the spread of the corona virus. We’re confident in their ability to overcome this crisis. The UAE is ready to provide all support to China and cooperate with the international community to tackle this virus."

Increased level of alertness

Following a close assessment of the domestic and external situation, as well as in the wake of the preventive steps taken by China, the UAE has however raised the level of alertness in order to deal with any developments proactively and effectively at the border crossings. The emergence of infections in countries other than China, where the virus was first detected, prompted the increase in level of alertness.

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Chinese tourists in the UAE take all precautions

Officials at the meeting also discussed in detail the steps to be taken to ensure that the UAE remains from the virus. Already, public and private health entities have been briefed on ways to anticipate and preempt the disease, as well as stop its spread in case of any incidence.

Avoid misinformation

Al Owais also stressed on the need to rely only on official sources when dealing with news about the Wuhan-nCoV. He called upon relevant authorities to inform residents about protective measures that they can undertake to ensure their own safety and wellbeing.

Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre issued a statement via state media WAM to debunk a rumour that alleged the detection of Wuhan-nCoV infection.

Fake email

Earlier on Sunday, a screenshot of an email was circulated widely on WhatsApp, claiming that a Wuhan-nCoV case had been detected in the capital, with the patient hospitalised at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

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Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

The screenshot showed an internal email from a hospital staff member, informing other professionals of a patient who had tested positive for the virus. The sender then urged the use of personal protective equipment when handling the infected patient. Two lines of Arabic text captioned the screenshot, saying that Abu Dhabi had seen its first case of the novel coronavirus, and urging everyone to stay safe and keep praying.

“The rumours spread about the existence of a coronavirus patient in a hospital in the emirate of Abu Dhabi is incorrect, and the current condition is for one of the other previously known coronaviruses that receives regular medical treatment. We advise the public to obtain the correct information from government health authorities and not to circulate disease-specific information in general, which negatively affects the efforts,” the Public Health Centre said.

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Residents wearing masks in Dubai on Sunday

The hospital issued its own statement, saying that no patient has been diagnosed to date with the Wuhan-nCoV.

“Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi can assure the community that, to date, no patients have been diagnosed with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the virus originating in Wuhan, China and currently causing global concern. There are numerous forms of coronaviruses, including more prevalent human coronaviruses, and the majority of these are not considered public health risks. An email appearing to be from a member of the hospital’s staff currently circulating on some social media platforms should be disregarded. We would urge people to only share confirmed news from official sources, to avoid causing unnecessary public concern,” the statement said.

The UAE takes a strict stance on the spreading of rumours via social media channels, with authorities repeatedly warning residents not to circulate unverified information or to fall prey to misinformation.

Virus toll

The Wuhan-nCoV emerged in central China, and has so far led to the death of 56 people, all in China. It has also infected more than 2,000 people, including more than 40 confirmed cases outside mainland China in countries like the United States, France, Australia and Vietnam.

Airport screenings

Last Thursday, Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports announced that thermal screening procedures have been put in place in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Passengers arriving from China are being screened on arrival at both airports, and the checks are in compliance with directives issued by the UAE Civil Aviation Authority, and instructions by the Ministry of Health and Prevention.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds that include diarrhea in cows and pigs, and upper respiratory disease in chickens. In humans, the viruses cause respiratory infections, which are often mild, but are potentially lethal.

Complications are mostly likely to arise in people with lowered immunity, such as the elderly with chronic conditions or young children and pregnant women.

Between November 2002 and July 2003, an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in southern China led to more than 8,000 infections worldwide. A total of 774 people died, as reported by the World Health Organisation, but no new cases have been reported since 2004.

Another coronavirus, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Less than 2,000 cases had been confirmed until 2017, with a large outbreak in South Korea in 2015.

What we know about the Wuhan-nCoV

While the Wuhan nCoV poses a significant public health risk for human transmission, this transmission depends on the immunity of the person affected, the mutations a virus can create of itself to increase transmissibility, and other factors.

Symptoms of an infection are flu-like, and include fever, muscle pain, lethargy, cough, sore throat and a fever. The fever in all cases has been higher than 38 degrees Celsius.