Mohamed, Bill Gates discuss covid; virus genome mapped

By Eudore R. Chand

UAE 16 April 2020: His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, received a call today from Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, during which they discussed ways to enhance humanitarian cooperation in health as well as disease and epidemic control in the light of the global partnerships and initiatives implemented by the two sides.

Sheikh Mohamed and Gates also discussed the developments of coronavirus, Covid-19 and the efforts being made to curb its impacts, particularly on the humanitarian areas.

They spoke about the possibility of intensifying cooperation and joint work between UAE’s humanitarian institutions and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, Covid-19, and support the efforts of the international community, governments and societies to limit its spread. They also stressed the importance of supporting research centres and medical institutions working to develop and produce a cure for the virus, said Wam.

They reviewed the most important humanitarian initiatives and partnerships between the two sides which aim to reduce the spread of diseases and epidemics.

Sheikh Mohamed renewed the UAE’s commitment to its humanitarian responsibility of strengthening solidarity and cooperation to overcome the common challenges the world is facing due to coronavirus. He also affirmed UAE’s keenness to rally all efforts of the international community and to support the affected communities and to improve the humanitarian conditions all over the world.

Bill Gates lauded the support provided by the UAE to help other countries in building capacities to contain the spread of coronavirus and to mitigate its impacts.

He also praised Sheikh Mohamed’s humanitarian stances and initiatives and referred to his recent initiative to provide medical and protective supplies to African countries amidst the global fight against Covid-

UAE’s first full genome sequencing of Covid-19 virus

Dubai’s Covid-19 Command and Control Centre, CCC, has announced the UAE’s first full genome sequencing of the Covid-19 virus. The successful sequencing of the virus from a patient in Dubai was performed by researchers at the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU).

Emphasising the important role of science in combating the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Amer Sharif, Vice Chancellor of MBRU and Head of Dubai’s Covid-19 CCC, said, “Scientific research is a critical resource to inform the centre’s strategies and actions against this virus. We are fortunate to have academic institutions that can join other sectors in Dubai in the fight against Covid-19.”

Genome sequencing has increasingly become an important tool for studying disease outbreaks. The genome of the virus causing Covid-19 (known as SARS-CoV-2) consists of 30,000 genetic bases or letters. Many countries have started reporting genomic sequences of the virus from patient samples, the centre said in a statement on Wednesday.

As a virus spreads and continues to reproduce, small changes in its genetic material take place. Recent studies on the virus causing Covid-19 show that these genetic changes, known as mutations, occur every two weeks on average. By studying the genetic sequence of the virus and the minor changes over time from many patients, scientists can get a better understanding of how the virus spreads which can also inform measures to control the outbreak.

Professor Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, MBRU’s Provost, Member of the Emirates Scientist Council and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Group for the CCC, noted, “This development highlights the critical role of science and the scientific community in enhancing our capacity to fight emerging diseases. It is an important first step of a larger study in collaboration with colleagues from Dubai Health Authority and the Al Jalila Children’s Genomic Centre.”

“We aim to fully sequence viral samples from 240 patients with Covid-19 across various age groups and at different time points of this pandemic. We will also collect information on the severity of disease in our patients which can help us understand if different strains of the virus are associated with different levels of disease severity,” he added.

Dr. Ahmad Abou Tayoun, Associate Professor of Genetics at MBRU and Director of the Genomics Centre at Al Jalila Children’s, said, “This is a specific example of how this information can help trace the origin of infection in this specific patient from the UAE, and can tell us a lot about viral transmission in the country.

Given Dubai’s role and geographic position as a bridge between the East and the West, this information will also help in understanding how the pandemic has been spreading globally, Dr. Tayoun added.

The sequencing study is led by an experienced research team which includes experts in virology, epidemiology, public health, genetics, and clinical research. The team is also working on other research questions related to Covid-19 and will continue to build collaborations with research institutions in the UAE and abroad.

Emirates first airline to do on-site Covid tests for passengers

Emirates in coordination with Dubai Health Authority (DHA), will be introducing additional precautions. Passengers on yesterday’s flight to Tunisia were all tested for Covid-19 before departing from Dubai. Emirates is the first airline to conduct on-site rapid Covid-19 tests for passengers.

The quick blood test was conducted by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) and results were available within 10 minutes. This test was conveniently done at the Group Check-in area of Dubai International Airport Terminal 3.

Adel Al Redha, Emirates Chief Operating Officer said: “The testing process has gone smoothly and we would like to take this opportunity to thank the Dubai Health Authority for their initiatives and innovative solutions. This would have not been possible without the support of Dubai Airport and other government authorities. We are working on plans to scale up testing capabilities in the future and extend it to other flights, this will enable us to conduct on-site tests and provide immediate confirmation for Emirates passengers travelling to countries that require Covid-19 test certificates. The health and safety of staff and passengers at the airport remain of paramount importance.”

Humaid Al Qutami, Director-General of the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said: “We are glad to work with Emirates on the successful implementation of rapid Covid-19 testing at the airport for departing travellers. To tackle Covid-19, we have been proactively working with various governmental organisations and the private health sector and we have implemented all necessary measures from public health protection to provision of high-quality health services in line with the latest international guidelines. We believe strongly that the most effective solutions require close partnerships with other public and private sector organisations.”

The airline’s check-in and boarding formalities have also been adapted with social distancing in mind. Protective barriers have been installed at each check-in desk to provide additional safety measures to our passengers and employees during any interaction. Gloves, masks and hand sanitisers have been made mandatory for all employees at the airport.

Passengers are also required to wear their own masks when at the airport and on board the aircraft, and follow social distancing guidelines.Emirates has modified its inflight services for health and safety reasons.

Magazines and other print reading material will not be available, and while food and beverages will continue to be offered on board, packaging and presentation will be modified to reduce contact during meal service and minimize risk of interaction. Cabin baggage are currently not accepted on flights.

Carry-on items allowed in the cabin are limited to laptop, handbag, briefcase or baby items. All other items have to be checked in, and Emirates will add the cabin baggage allowance to customers’ check-in baggage allowance.

All Emirates aircraft will go through enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes in Dubai, after each journey.

Aster Pharmacy medicines at cost price to stranded visitors

A leading pharmacy chain in the UAE announced that it will offer medicines at cost price to visitors who are stranded in the UAE due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aster Pharmacy, part of Aster DM Healthcare, said in a statement the decision came following “several requests from various consulates to assist their citizens to avail prescription medicines – many of which can be very expensive to purchase privately.”

“There are currently a large number of people stuck in the UAE as a result of Covid-19 issues, many of whom do not possess health insurance: this is especially worrying for those that have chronic conditions requiring ongoing medical support – in addition to visitors with acute illness that require immediate medication,” it explained.

The pharmacy said it will provide medicines at cost price to visitors who can provide proof of their identity and a visit visa in addition to a prescription from a licensed medical practitioner.

“If prescriptions have been prepared by doctors outside of the UAE, alternative medicines will be provided at cost price,” it added.

Commercial vehicles’ registration fees exempted

The General Command of Abu Dhabi Police (ADP), announced on Wednesday that vehicles registered for commercial purposes will be exempted from registration fees.

ADP said that the moves comes as part of efforts to implement the economic stimulus measures launched by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

According to Abu Dhabi Police, registration fee exemptions include vehicles registered for commercial activities within the emirate beginning 16th March 2020 and up until the end of year. The ADP statement noted, registration fees that were already processed will be refunded to the parties of concern.

ADP called on all companies and organisations to utilise these stimulus measures via its smart application or website. It also called on parties to adhere to all precautionary and preventative measures applied by relevant authorities in the UAE, and to follow laws, regulations and guidelines set out to ensure their rights, security and safety.

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