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Denmark bars flights from UAE, cites tests

by JAN M. OLSEN THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | January 23, 2021 at 4:15 a.m.
Tourists on a yacht as they pass a traditional dhow serving a dinner cruise, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. With peak tourism season in full swing, coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights, with daily case counts nearly tripling in the past month, forcing Britain to slam shut its travel corridor with Dubai last week. But in the face of a growing economic crisis, the city won't lock down and can't afford to stand still. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Denmark has temporarily suspended all flights from the United Arab Emirates for five days after suspicion arose that the coronavirus tests that can be obtained before leaving Dubai are not reliable, authorities announced Friday.

The development, which comes amid a surge of infections in the UAE, poses a direct challenge to the mass testing regime that had been the pillar of the country's coronavirus response and economic reopening. Dubai was one of the world's first destinations to open up to tourists, welcoming visitors from anywhere with only a coronavirus test.

Danish Transport Minister Benny Engelbrecht said the decision was made to allow the matter to be thoroughly investigated and ensure that the tests are being carried out properly.

"We can't ignore such a suspicion," Engelbrecht said, adding that the ban took effect Thursday night.

Danish authorities faced a "concrete and serious citizen inquiry into" how the tests are carried out at Dubai entry and exit points, he said, and "therefore we need to be absolutely sure that there are no problems."

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Engelbrecht said at least "one citizen" brought the South African variant of the virus "back from Dubai." He did not identify the person. Dubai has seen an increase in the number of South African residents as the country's economy deteriorated in recent years.

Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet said Friday there has been a second report of allegedly sloppy virus testing in Dubai, and cited Engelbrecht as saying "the information seem precise and valid."

Since Jan. 9, Denmark has required that all passengers arriving in the Scandinavian country have a negative coronavirus test or proof that they have recently had covid-19, the illness caused by the virus.

The UAE's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the flight suspension and the suspicions surrounding the testing.

On Jan. 8, Denmark's Foreign Ministry advised against travel abroad, including business travel. On Tuesday, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told local media that "there is a reason why we really ask everyone not to travel. It's really important that everyone listens."

"There is a risk of bringing [virus] mutations to Denmark," she said. "It can undermine our epidemic control and thus infect others and what is worse."

In recent days, several Danish celebrities, socialites and influencers -- such as former boxer Mikkel Kessler, former football international Nicklas Bendtner and table tennis ace Michael Maze -- have traveled to Dubai and posted photos of themselves on social media.

According to media in Denmark, there are currently 85 Danish nationals there and about 800 permanent Danish residents of Dubai.

​​​​​Information for this article was contributed by Isabel DeBre of The Associated Press.

Tourists party on a yacht in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Since becoming one of the world's first destinations to open up for tourism, Dubai has promoted itself as the ideal pandemic vacation spot. With peak tourism season in full swing, coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights, with daily case counts nearly tripling in the past month, but in the face of a growing economic crisis, the city won't lock down and can't afford to stand still. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Tourists party on a yacht in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Since becoming one of the world's first destinations to open up for tourism, Dubai has promoted itself as the ideal pandemic vacation spot. With peak tourism season in full swing, coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights, with daily case counts nearly tripling in the past month, but in the face of a growing economic crisis, the city won't lock down and can't afford to stand still. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Tourists party on a yacht in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Since becoming one of the world's first destinations to open up for tourism, Dubai has promoted itself as the ideal pandemic vacation spot. With peak tourism season in full swing, coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights, with daily case counts nearly tripling in the past month, but in the face of a growing economic crisis, the city won't lock down and can't afford to stand still. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Tourists party on a yacht in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Since becoming one of the world's first destinations to open up for tourism, Dubai has promoted itself as the ideal pandemic vacation spot. With peak tourism season in full swing, coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights, with daily case counts nearly tripling in the past month, but in the face of a growing economic crisis, the city won't lock down and can't afford to stand still. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Tourists and residents enjoy the sunset at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights in the United Arab Emirates. But Dubai, the glimmering city-state powered by legions of foreign laborers and travelers, is resisting a lockdown during its peak tourism season. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Tourists and residents enjoy the sunset at the Jumeirah Beach Residence, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Coronavirus infections are surging to unprecedented heights in the United Arab Emirates. But Dubai, the glimmering city-state powered by legions of foreign laborers and travelers, is resisting a lockdown during its peak tourism season. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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