Health Ministry officials are reportedly considering declaring Dubai and Abu Dhabi “red” zones due to their increasing number of COVID-19 infections, as Israeli tourists begin visiting the cities following the United Arab Emirates’ normalization agreement with Israel.
Senior officials are alarmed by a spike in infections in the UAE in recent weeks, and if new infections in the kingdom continue to exceed 1,000 per day, it may be declared a “red” country, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday.
Health Ministry officials are expected to discuss the outbreak in the UAE, and in other countries, at an upcoming meeting, but have acknowledged that putting restrictions on the UAE will be complicated by its new ties to Israel, the report said.
Travelers returning from “red” countries are required to enter quarantine for two weeks upon returning to Israel. The Health Ministry currently lists the UAE as a “green” area.
The US Centers for Disease Control designates the UAE as a “very high” risk level for COVID-19. The CDC considers most parts of the world as high risk, however, including Israel and over 170 other countries and territories.
The UAE has reported 168,860 confirmed virus cases, and 572 deaths, out of a population of some 9.6 million, according to the World Health Organization. New infections in the kingdom have been trending upward since August 1, and have remained above 1,000 per day since late October.
The first Israeli commercial flight to the UAE touched down in Dubai on Tuesday, passing over Saudi Arabia after receiving last-minute overflight permission from the kingdom.
The Israir flight took just over three hours, less than half the time it would take if the plan had to fly around Saudi Arabia, and marked a major milestone in burgeoning ties between Israel and its new Gulf allies.
On Thursday, a flydubai plane landed in Dubai from Tel Aviv with some 200 Israelis on board for the return leg of the first commercial flight to Israel by the UAE’s state-owned airline.
The first flydubai plane to touch down in Israel actually landed earlier this month without great fanfare, but Thursday’s flight marked the official launch of the airline’s Tel Aviv-Dubai route. The Emirati budget airliner is offering twice-daily flights between the two cities.
Last week, Israel’s cabinet ratified a mutual visa exemption agreement with the UAE — the Jewish state’s first-ever such agreement with an Arab country. The agreement will enter into force next month.
Health officials were reportedly told on Saturday that two-thirds of Israelis returning from trips abroad to countries with high coronavirus infection rates have been breaking quarantine.
The meeting between Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, ministry officials and scientists also heard that 1-2 percent of people coming back from abroad — from all locations — have later been found to be carrying the coronavirus, Channel 12 reported.
Last week, the UAE reportedly began denying visas to visitors and workers from 11 majority Muslim countries, plus Kenya, as the coronavirus surges across the region.