By ISABEL DEBRE for the Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The capital of the United Arab Emirates has apparently started offering free coronavirus vaccines to tourists flying into the emirate, a move that could entice travelers and help revive the country’s struggling tourism industry.
While Abu Dhabi has made no official announcement on the matter, the health authority’s phone application showed updated criteria for vaccine access on Tuesday, saying visitors to the capital could now get the COVID-19 shot by presenting their passports.
Passport holders must be eligible for entry visas on arrival, the guidelines said, without offering further information. Previously, vaccine recipients in the emirate had to show proof of Emirati residency. The UAE’s government-run media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abu Dhabi will lift mandatory quarantine measures on travelers from an approved list of countries starting July 1.
The federation of seven sheikhdoms boasts among the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world, with 14.6 million doses administered to its population of over 9 million. The country has relied heavily on China’s state-backed Sinopharm shot and even started manufacturing Sinopharm earlier this year. Abu Dhabi and the nearby emirate of Dubai also offer the Pfizer-BioNtech shot. Since March, everyone over age 16 in the country has been eligible to get the vaccine.
With its small population and ample vaccine supply, the UAE has sent free vaccine shipments to places that need them, such as Egypt, the Gaza Strip and the Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles.
As vaccination inequality grows increasingly stark worldwide, Abu Dhabi’s expanded vaccine access could prove a major draw for those frustrated by the sluggish pace of inoculation campaigns in their surge-stricken home countries. But medical tourism for vaccines has also raised ethical concerns over access being limited to those with the means to travel far afield while others remain vulnerable and exposed.
Throughout the year, Abu Dhabi has kept strict anti-COVID measures in place, even shuttering its border with Dubai. In its reopening, the capital announced a new “green pass” system this month that limits access to public places to those who can show proof of vaccination or a recent negative virus test.
Dubai, the regional financial hub home to long-haul carrier Emirates, has not unveiled plans to vaccinate tourists.