Dubai World Expo warns of possible closures due to virus

DUBAI – The multibillion-dollar world fair in Dubai has warned that some on-site sites may close as coronavirus cases increase rapidly in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai Expo 2020 said virus outbreaks among staff could force parts of the fair to “temporarily close for deep cleaning and disinfection,” without specifying the extent or location of the infections.

The number of daily cases of the virus in the UAE has skyrocketed by a multiple of 37 in just the past three weeks after the arrival of the omicron variant.

The vague statement from the Dubai government-run media office on Monday highlights the daunting challenges of hosting one of the world’s first major in-person events amid a still raging pandemic. The fair opened in October after a year of delay, with the UAE betting that the rapid rollout of its vaccine would allow its economy to avoid the shutdowns that have crippled much of the West.

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Expo is trying to apply various virus precautions, with mandatory masks on the fairgrounds and a recent vaccination certificate or negative virus test required for entry. But the highly transmissible variant of omicron, which is thought to elude immunity from vaccination, poses a new test.

There have been no visible social distancing requirements at the Expo’s massive gigs in recent weeks, where revelers have been battling against each other, waving their hands at the sound of the music.

As Dubai’s peak winter tourist season is in full swing, the World Expo has come under the spotlight. Millions of tourists from around the world flock to the sprawling site teeming with numerous national pavilions, restaurants, shops and performance venues. The Christmas parades drew large crowds last week and the Expo is now gearing up for big concerts to attract revelers on New Years Eve.

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The New Year’s Eve celebrations last year in Dubai contributed to a drastic increase in virus cases in the Emirates as tourists escaped lockdowns at home. Infections now hover below these heights, but are increasing rapidly. The daily infection toll topped 1,840 on Tuesday, the highest in six months.

The more conservative capital of Abu Dhabi stepped up virus checks on the highway from Dubai on Tuesday to ensure all vaccinated drivers had also tested negative in the past two weeks. The city capped house parties at 30 and outdoor events at 150 this week.

Emirati authorities have reported few daily hospitalizations and deaths among the UAE’s nearly 10 million people, more than 90% of whom are fully vaccinated.

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