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World’s fair in Dubai warns of possible closures over virus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The multibillion-dollar world’s fair in Dubai has warned that some venues on site may shut down as coronavirus cases rapidly rise in the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai’s Expo 2020 said that virus outbreaks among staff may force some parts of the fair to “close temporarily for deep cleaning and sanitization,” without elaborating on the scope or the location of the infections.

The UAE’s daily virus caseload has skyrocketed by a multiple of 37 in just the last three weeks after the arrival of the omicron variant.

The vague statement from Dubai’s government-run media office on Monday underscores the daunting challenges of hosting among the world’s first major in-person events amid a still-raging pandemic. The fair opened in October after a year’s delay as the UAE bet that its rapid vaccine rollout would allow its economy to avoid the closures that have paralyzed much of the West.

Expo tries to enforce various virus precautions, with face masks mandatory on the fairgrounds and a vaccination certificate or recent negative virus test needed for entry. But the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is thought to evade immunity from vaccination, poses a new test.

There have been no visible social distancing requirements at Expo’s massive concerts in recent weeks where revelers have rammed up against each other, waving their hands to the music.

With Dubai’s peak winter tourism season in full swing, the world’s fair has vaulted into the spotlight. Millions of tourists from around the world are flocking to the sprawling site packed with scores of national pavilions, restaurants, shops and performance stages. Christmas parades drew crowds last week and Expo is now gearing up for big concerts to attract party-goers on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve bashes last year in Dubai helped drive a drastic surge in virus cases in the Emirates as tourists escaped lockdowns at home. Infections now hover below those heights but are climbing fast. The daily infection toll exceeded 1,840 on Tuesday, the highest in six months.

The more conservative capital of Abu Dhabi on Tuesday ramped up virus checks on the highway from Dubai to make sure all vaccinated drivers also had tested negative within the last two weeks. The city capped house parties at 30 people and outdoor events at 150 this week.

Emirati authorities have reported few daily hospitalizations and deaths among the UAE’s nearly 10 million people, of which over 90% are fully vaccinated.