UK surge before easing; UAE capital shuts

·3-min read

Restrictions are due to tighten in the United Arab Emirates and South Korea amid a surge in coronavirus cases while authorities in the United Kingdom push ahead with plans to end all curbs despite the county's own dramatic rise in infections.

The capital of the UAE announced a sudden overnight lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic even as the rest of the country remains open for tourism.

The state-run WAM news agency announced late on Thursday the lockdown would begin on Monday and last each day from 12am to 5am.

It comes just ahead of the long Eid al-Adha holidays in the UAE, which begins on Monday as well.

Abu Dhabi's Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee euphemistically described the lockdown as being part of "the National Sterilisation Program".

The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, used the same term during lockdowns in 2020 amid the start of the pandemic.

Abu Dhabi has struck a hard line after Dubai reopened for tourism a year ago, requiring PCR tests for those coming over the border.

Dubai, like other emirates, have remained open to spur tourism and business even as daily reported new coronavirus case remain about 1500 a day despite a mass vaccination program.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials are pushing for tightened restrictions beyond the hard-hit capital area as they wrestle with a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum during a virus meeting on Friday called for all local governments outside the greater Seoul area to simultaneously enforce four-person limits on gatherings after 6pm to slow the viral spread.

Permitted social bubbles are even smaller in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province and Incheon, where officials are enforcing the strongest "Level 4" restrictions that prohibit gatherings of three or more people after 6pm, ban visitors at hospitals and nursing homes and shut down nightclubs and churches.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported another 1536 new coronavirus cases on Friday, the 10th straight day above 1000.

The country's caseload is now at 175,046, including 2,051 deaths.

The UK reported its highest number of new virus cases in more than six months on Friday, days before the government plans to relax curbs on pubs, restaurants and nightclubs in England and ease requirements to wear masks.

Government data showed there were 51,870 new cases of coronavirus, up from 48,553 on Thursday and the highest daily total since January 15.

The number of new deaths reported as having occurred within 28 days of a positive test was 49, down from 63 on Thursday, taking the total on this measure to 128,642.

However, with more than two-thirds of the adult population fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the time is right to lift most remaining restrictions, due to a weaker link between case numbers and subsequent hospitalisation or death.

Friday's data showed 67.5 per cent of UK adults had received two vaccine doses while 87.6 per cent had received at least one dose.

Most of those who are unvaccinated are younger people who only gained access to vaccines recently.

From Monday, nightclubs in England can reopen and pubs, bars and restaurants will be able to pack in more customers.

A legal requirement to wear masks on English public transport and in shops will also go, although many transport operators and stores have said they will require or strongly advise customers and passengers to continue doing so.

The government's chief medical advisor, Chris Whitty, warned earlier on Friday that England could quickly slip back into crisis.

"I don't think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast," he said.

with AP

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