Abu Dhabi will ban the unvaccinated from virtually all public locations and colleges

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Abu Dhabi will deny access to almost all public spaces and schools to people who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus, the emirate’s government announced late Monday evening.

The oil-rich United Arab Emirates announced their review of the plan in April but did not impose the restrictions. Now they are to come into force on August 20 in the capital, which has a population of 1.5 million.

“The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee has approved that only vaccinated people are allowed to enter some public places after 93 percent of the target groups in the emirate have been vaccinated and public health has been preserved,” read a tweet from the Abu Dhabi media bureau.

The entry restrictions apply to shopping malls, restaurants, cafes, gyms, recreational facilities, sports activities, and any other retail store that is not located within malls or shopping malls. An exception remains for access to “essential” shops such as pharmacies and supermarkets, according to a subsequent tweet.

“The decision also applies to health clubs, resorts, museums and cultural centers, amusement parks, universities and institutes, schools and kindergartens,” the Twitter post said.

Children under the age of 15 and those with special vaccination exemptions are excluded from the new regulation.

Almost all vaccinated

Abu Dhabi boasted its high vaccination rate, now 93% of the emirate’s population according to the Ministry of Health, as part of the rationale for the move.

The United Arab Emirates as a whole has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with more than 15 million doses given to the overseas majority population of just over 10 million. Since all vaccines available in the United Arab Emirates require two doses, according to a calculation by Reuters, that is enough to fully vaccinate around 77% of the Gulf country’s population.

An Emirati man wearing a protective mask walks at al-Barsha Health Center in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on December 24, 2020.

GIUSEPPE CACACE | AFP via Getty Images

The announcement from Abu Dhabi met with criticism, at least online.

“They never clarify how it will affect visitors? They cannot register their vaccines with al-Hosn if they are taken in another country. Does that mean that visitors to Abu Dhabi have nowhere to go? Good luck with tourism !!! ” One Twitter user wrote in response to the news, referring to the UAE’s Al Hosn tracking and vaccination registration app.

Abu Dhabi did not indicate whether this will apply to tourists and did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

The impending entry bans for unvaccinated people so far only apply in Abu Dhabi. In Dubai, the commercial and tourism capital of the United Arab Emirates, some businesses such as bars and restaurants require a full vaccination card, but the restrictions are not universal.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the desert sheikdom has recorded 631,160 infections and 1,807 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began, and current daily infections averaged around 2,100, about half of the peak in late January.

However, the numbers do not indicate which emirates or cities the cases or deaths are recorded in. And Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the most populous emirates in the UAE, are approaching their vaccination campaigns a little differently.

Abu Dhabi only offered the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine as of late 2020, in line with its plan to manufacture the vaccine locally thanks to a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42, commonly known as G42.

Meanwhile, Dubai offered Sinopharm, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine developed in America and Germany, the British Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and the Russian Sputnik V. Most of the vaccines given in the country are China’s Sinopharm, which was offered to all groups of people much earlier than the other shots. All vaccinations in the country are free.

Uncertain vaccine effectiveness

But some countries and residents are not convinced of the UAE’s efforts. It remains on the travel “red list” – which means strict quarantine on arrival or full immigration – for several countries, including the UK, a key trading and tourism partner.

And Abu Dhabi is now offering residents Pfizer syringes as well as a third or booster syringe from Sinopharm after it was revealed that an unknown number of people did not produce adequate antibodies to Covid-19 after receiving both doses of Sinopharm. The neighboring golf country of Bahrain offers the same. Several recipients of the Chinese vaccine have reported contracting Covid despite being fully vaccinated.

The United Arab Emirates government announced in December that an “interim analysis” of Phase 3 studies of the vaccine in Abu Dhabi by China National Biotec Group (a subsidiary of Sinopharm) showed 86% efficacy. But the announcement contained few details and did not reveal how that 86% figure was calculated.

In the same month, China announced that the vaccine was 79.34% effective based on “interim trial data” without releasing Phase 3 results, contradicting UAE figures.

Sinopharm has failed to respond to several CNBC requests for comment.

The World Health Organization approved Sinopharm for an emergency in May, making it the first non-Western vaccine to receive the organization’s green light. It is one of China’s two main syringes given to millions of people in China and elsewhere, especially in the developing world.

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