Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group

How are UAE airports adapting to COVID-19?

The UAE’s experience with COVID-19 has been comparable to a number of other countries in the Middle East and worldwide (albeit with mercifully few deaths at 347), with an initial infection spike, subsequent public movement restrictions, a significant drop in new cases, a relaxation of restrictions and most recently a new climb in infections. This understandable ebb and flow of infections is causing the nation’s airports to take a strongly proactive stance on preventing the spread of coronavirus through a widening range of physical measures and overarching strategies.

Mandatory testing for all arrival passengers in all UAE airports

1 August saw UAE health authorities take the step of implementing mandatory Covid-19 PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing for all passengers arriving into all its airports. This applies to all passengers, regardless of their flight’s departure country, as well as those transiting through. This kind of comprehensive testing regimen (only children under the age of 12 and those with moderate or severe disabilities are exempt) is a tangible attempt by the UAE Government to make air travel as safe as possible, balancing both the country’s long-term economic needs as well as its public health considerations and global duty to contain the virus. 

All airline and airport workers coordinate with health authorities

The Abu Dhabi Government, General Civil Aviation Authority, Department of Health, and Ministry of Health and Prevention have all been increasingly active across all UAE airports in preparation for reopening the country to commercial flights since the nationwide suspension on 26th March. Leadership members and employees across all airports and airlines have been in close cooperation with the authorities to design, plan and implement effective containment and prevention measures. These range from installation of thermal imaging cameras at key transit areas, to coordination of passenger testing measures and the enforcement of social distancing guidelines and roster realignment across all airport operations.

This instance of private enterprise working hard-in-glove with government authorities to combat COVID-19 is typical of the responses we’re seeing around the world as countries learn from their ‘first-wave’ experiences and galvanise themselves to be as prepared as possible against the prospect of further waves.

DPI testing technology enters service

The fight to tackle testing with sufficient speed and accuracy has entered a new technological phase in the UAE. In the middle of July, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHaP) introduced laser-based DPI technology (Diffractive Phase Interferometry) as a means of detecting persons infected with COVID-19. The DPI testing process takes only seconds, making it fast, non-invasive and capable of performing large-scale screenings quickly – a vital consideration as airports slowly return to regular passenger volumes. DPI is already proving to be an invaluable ‘first-step’ test measure to quickly find infected signatures before following up with PCR tests. 

Dog teams sniff out COVID cases

Last month saw trials successfully completed by the Minister of Interior to use K9 teams to detect passengers with COVID-19 in airports. The ministry claims that their tests yielded a 92% accuracy rate, making the trained teams an invaluable asset in the ongoing effort to stop the infection spreading. While there is currently no set date for K9 teams to be officially deployed in airports for this purpose, observers are excited by the successful trials and we could be seeing them in UAE airports in the coming months. 

Keeping COVID Contained at the Border

Across the UAE, we are seeing a ramping up of efforts, both technical and strategic, to keep COVID-19 infection rates from rising, and its airports are a crucial area of focus. With more testing and detection methods being introduced, as well as a general increase in vigilance, these airports are better prepared than ever to detect, contain and prevent further infections.

This article was created in association with Airport Show taking place in Dubai on 24-26 May 2021. 

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