Dubai closes bars, cracks down on risky activities after New Year’s-induced COVID spike

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Dubai announced Monday it would close all bars and pubs for the entire month of February and limit other activities after a spike in coronavirus cases followed New Year’s Eve celebrations that drew visitors from around the world.

The sheikhdom also ordered restaurants and cafes to close by 1 a.m., as well as instituted crowd limits on cinemas, hotels, malls and other destinations.

The decision comes after Dubai insisted as recently as last week that “we can confidently say the current situation is under control.” That was as coronavirus testing facilities and hospitals came under pressure from 17 straight days of record reported daily coronavirus figures across the wider United Arab Emirates.

Dubai said it will shut down bars for all of January, close restaurants and cafes by 1 a.m. and reduce capacity at places like cinemas and malls after 17 straight days of record-breaking COVID case numbers.

According to the World Health Organization, new cases in the UAE climbed throughout January, beginning with just over 16,000 case the week of Jan. 4 and ending with over 26,000 by the week of Jan. 25.

The announcement from the government’s Dubai Media Office blamed “a marked increase in the number of violations of precautionary measures” for the decision made by the city-state’s hereditary rulers.

“The measures seek to further enhance efforts to combat COVID-19, and protect the health and safety of all citizens, residents and visitors,” the statement said.

Dubai, known for its long-haul carrier Emirates, the world’s tallest building and its beaches and bars, in July became one of the first travel destinations to describe itself as open for business. The move staunched the bleeding of its crucial tourism and real estate sectors after lockdowns and curfews cratered its economy.

As tourism restarted, daily reported coronavirus case numbers slowly grew but mostly remained stable through the fall.

But then came New Year’s Eve — a major draw for travelers from countries otherwise shut down over the virus who partied without face masks in bars and on yachts. In recent days, countries have blamed Dubai for imported coronavirus cases, including variants feared to be faster spreading.

As daily reported coronavirus cases neared 4,000, Dubai fired the head of its government health agency without explanation. It stopped live entertainment at bars, halted nonessential surgeries, limited wedding sizes and ordered gyms to increase space between those working out. It also now requires coronavirus testing for all those flying into its airport.

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