Mosques and other religious sites in the UAE are taking precautionary measures aimed at limiting gatherings to prevent the further spread of coronavirus, which is increasingly disrupting life across the Arabian Gulf.
With the threat of the virus growing, the government, public institutions, and religious communities in the country have taken several measures to cushion the social and economic impact of the virus.
After the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia announced that its courtyard and floors are being washed and sanitized four times daily, mosques in UAE have intensified efforts to protect worshippers from the spread of the virus.
In order to avoid large gatherings and ensure proper hygiene during the prayer gatherings, some of the churches in the UAE have decided to organize three sermons instead of one weekly sermon.
The Orthodox church in Dubai has temporarily stopped the kiss of peace, a ceremonial greeting or embrace, said Father Ninan Philip Panackamattam, vicar of St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral in Oud Metha. The Catholic Church has decided to take the Holy Communion by hand, instead of placing it on the recipient’s tongue.
Guru Nanak Darbar, a Sikh temple in Dubai, said it would install temperature scanners at its entrances and in its parking lot to better monitor the situation.
UAE efforts to prevent coronavirus
In an effort to limit the spread of the virus, the government has evacuated all UAE citizens from Iran. The country banned travel to Iran and Thailand on February 24 and warned against travel to China on January 24. The Federal Authority for Land and Maritime Transport (FTA) suspended on February 27 ferry services with Iran until further notice, and required all commercial vessels coming into the country to present a statement of health condition for their crews 72 hours ahead of arrival.
The UAE health ministry reported on Tuesday a total of 27 coronavirus cases in the country, five of which had been “cured.”
As a precautionary measure, the education ministry first closed nurseries and suspended all school extracurricular activities and field trips until further notice. Then, on Tuesday, the ministry announced that schools would be shut for four weeks from Sunday.
Several highly publicized cultural and sports events have recently been canceled or postponed, including the Dubai International Boat Show and Art Dubai.
UAE retail, tourism bracing for the worse
Retail and tourism sectors in the country have borne the brunt of the outbreak.
According to an industry insider who spoke to Al Arabiya English, disruption to shipments from China has hit several retail industries such as apparel, smartphones, and electronics. Some retail sector sources estimate that there has been a drop of 40 to 50 percent, compared to the corresponding period last year. There has also been a drastic reduction in luxury retail alongside a rapid fall in the number of Chinese tourists to the UAE.
In the tourism sector, tour cancellations have been heavy following the news of the coronavirus spread, while several tour operators had to cancel their holiday packages to China, South Korea and Japan.
These disruptions appear to be hitting the economy, with the UAE central bank set to reassess its forecast for growth in 2020 to take into account the impact of coronavirus, according to Magda Kandil, the head of the research and statistics department at the central bank.