First UN medical flight takes Yemeni patients out of Sanaa airport

Patients, with chronic diseases which cannot be treated inside Yemen, will be airlifted by the UN chartered flights from Sanaa airport to hospitals in Cairo and Amman. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 February 2020

First UN medical flight takes Yemeni patients out of Sanaa airport

  • Patients were airlifted by UN chartered flights from Sanaa airport to hospitals in Jordan
  • These mercy flights come as part of humanitarian relief efforts

The first United Nations medical flight from Yemen left the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa on Monday, with seven patients and their families bound for Jordan where they will receive treatment.

“There will be patients who are suffering from conditions and diseases that can't be treated here in Yemen. They will be taken to Jordan,” UN resident coordinator for Yemen Lise Grande told reporters.

Flights to airlift patients from the Houthi-held Sanaa airport for treatment abroad began on Monday at 4:30 p.m. local time after weeks of discussions, diplomatic sources close to the matter told Arab News.

The UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in the capital on Sunday to facilitate the humanitarian “medical air bridge”, Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV reported.

Patients will be airlifted by World Health Organization (WHO) chartered flights, in cooperation with the Saudi-led Arab coalition, from Sanaa airport and taken to hospitals in Cairo and Amman.

These mercy flights come as part of “humanitarian relief efforts, and in support of the brethren Yemeni people to alleviate suffering” of patients with difficult illnesses, coalition spokesperson Colonel Turki Al-Maliki said last week.

“This humane step aims to alleviate suffering of citizens who cannot afford the hardship of travel by land to the Republic’s other ports, after the Houthis refused the government’s repeated initiative to operate Sanaa airport for domestic flights,” Yemen’s foreign ministry said in a release carried by the Riyadh-based Saba.

The Houthi-appointed medical bridge committee, Mutahar Derweesh, said that WHO had initially agreed to transport 30 patients in the first flight out of the 32,000 people that were registered on the medical evacuation lists. However, a statement released on Sunday by the Houthis stated that the number of patients that would be transported was decreased to seven. 

“I think it’s an important step, especially that it has been in discussion for a while now. I just hope it will not be abused by the Houthis,” Baraa Shiban, consultant to the Yemeni embassy in London told Arab News.

Shiban said that although this showed hope for future progress in resolving the conflict, he remained skeptical.

“I hardly see an end in sight, especially with the latest escalation,” he said.

Last week saw a drastic escalation in fighting between the warring sides in Yemen, killing and wounding hundreds of people.

The sudden spike in violence across long-stalemated front lines threatened to exacerbate the five-year conflict and complicate indirect peace talks.

Ibrahim Jalal, a Yemeni non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, also praised the decision as an “important humanitarian step to alleviate the suffering of Yemeni civilians.”

“The UN, in cooperation with humanitarian organisations and relevant stakeholders, should seek to increase the frequency of flights and seats allocated to meet basic medical demands,” he said.

There has been a blockade in place on commercial navigation to and from Sanaa airport since early August 2016, allowing only for UN and humanitarian groups’ flights.

The only commercially operated airports in Yemen are in the south in the interim-capital Aden and Seyoun in Hadramout, where the airports provide limited flights abroad.

“This reactivation is a step in the right direction and, if utilised well, could be one of the significant confidences building measures before the resumption of comprehensive peace talks,” Jalal said.

Last month, the UN envoy resumed a new round of regional talks to revive stalled peace talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthi militias. He discussed confidence-building measures to implement the Stockholm Agreement, signed in December 2018.  

Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

Updated 07 July 2020

Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

  • Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight
  • Dubai is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts

DUBAI: With a “welcome” passport sticker and coronavirus tests on arrival, Dubai reopened its doors to international visitors Tuesday in the hope of reviving its tourism industry after a nearly four-month closure.
But businesses are mainly betting on those already living in the gleaming desert city to energise its ailing economy and serve as a test run before wary foreign holidaymakers return.
“A warm welcome to your second home,” said the sticker applied to passports at Dubai airport, where employees wore hazmat suits and vending machines offered personal protective equipment.
Italian tourist Francesca Conte said on arrival she was worried up until the last minute that her flight would be canceled.
“When I saw passengers queueing at the gate, I thought today we are not leaving, since the trip to Dubai had already been skipped three times,” Conte said.
She said she felt sad “seeing empty spaces” on the plane and stewards and hostesses “dressed like nurses and doctors,” in their lab coats.
The reopening Tuesday came as the number of COVID-19 cases in the United Arab Emirates climbed to 52,600 included 326 deaths, with millions of foreign workers living in cramped accommodation particularly hard hit.
Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight. If not, they can take the test on arrival, but must self-isolate until they receive the all-clear.
Tourism has long been the lifeline of the glitzy Gulf emirate, one of the seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE.
High season starts in October when the scorching heat of the Gulf summer starts to dissipate.
Dubai welcomed more than 16.7 million visitors last year, and before the pandemic crippled global travel, the aim had been to reach 20 million arrivals in 2020.
“We are ready to receive tourists while we take all necessary precautions,” said Talal Al-Shanqiti of Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in a video message tweeted on Sunday.
With scant oil resources compared to its neighbors, Dubai has built the most diversified economy in the Gulf, boasting a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub despite an economic downturn in recent years.
The city-state is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts.
But all have taken a severe hit during the coronavirus outbreak, and Dubai’s GDP in the first quarter of 2020 contracted 3.5 percent following two years of modest growth.
Dubai-based airline Emirates, the largest in the Middle East, has been forced to slash its sprawling network and is believed to have laid off thousands of staff.
Before reopening to international tourists, authorities launched social media campaigns and deployed hundreds of social media “influencers” to tout Dubai’s attractions.
As the hospitality business works out how to create an environment that follows strict hygiene rules but is still worth the hassle for potential foreign clients, hotels are offering Dubai residents “staycation” and “daycation” deals to offset the slump.
Restarting hospitality by “primarily targeting the domestic market is an important first step in our phased approach toward restoring normalcy in the tourism industry,” said Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
And key to the effort are health and safety measures at hotels to “reassure guests and travelers that Dubai is one of the world’s safest destinations,” he said in a statement last month.
Boosting domestic tourism is also part of the strategy of the UAE’s other main destination, the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, which welcomed a record 11.35 million international visitors in 2019.
The UAE’s capital is home to top attractions including an F1 circuit and the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, which in late June opened its doors to masked, gloved visitors after a 100-day closure.
But the emirate does not share Dubai’s enthusiasm about opening doors to foreign tourists just yet, although those with negative test results are now allowed to enter.
“Plans have changed and we are not expecting to have the same numbers of 2019 this year definitely. It would take another two to three years,” said Ali Al-Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.
“As of today, I can say domestic tourism is what is in our plan. We believe domestic tourism is key now and we don’t see us opening for international travelers very soon,” he told AFP on Monday.