UAE : Swine Flu - Anxious Moments for Parents


Anxious parents clamour for flu advice

ABU DHABI - SEP. 10: Schools are under siege from parents worried about their children catching swine flu.

Since the first pupils returned from their summer holidays two weeks ago, teachers and principals have been bombarded with questions from parents about what precautions they are taking to keep away the H1N1 virus.

Many parents remain confused even about whether they should allow their children to be at school at all – attendance at some is said to be as low as 40 per cent.
Definitive answers have sometimes been missing, with teachers and schools giving conflicting advice.

And further questions over Tuesday’s order – later retracted – for all nurseries and special needs centres to be closed indefinitely only added to the issue.

While representatives of nurseries and special needs centres were called to a meeting at the Ministry of Social Affairs yesterday to be told that they should stay open, with measures in place to tackle H1N1, the authorities have sought to cut through the confusion in the rest of the education system with mandatory lectures.

The lectures, organised jointly by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) and the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), are being held across the emirate in both English and Arabic this week, aimed at giving teachers a better idea of what to do when a child falls sick, and, perhaps more important, how to keep parents calm.

“Parents are so panicked, understandably,” said Nisreen Gharios, the school nurse at the Lycée Francais Theodore Monod, who attended a session yesterday at the Abu Dhabi Education Zone, with staff from 14 other private schools.

“They are calling us daily asking us to check each student’s temperature every day and throughout the day, and asking us what our precautions are – even asking us why the school is open in the first place.”

The authority said daily screening was not yet a requirement.
“Daily screening in schools is recommended in some areas of the world, like Singapore,” said Dr Arwa Almodwahi, senior public health officer in the authority’s family and school health department. “But that is not yet the case in the UAE, and may never be.”

Dr Almodwahi said there were a lot of misconceptions about swine flu.
“The most important point we can bring across is to stress the importance of hand hygiene,” she said.

“Teachers have to give students and parents the message that it is very important to wash hands with soap and water frequently, as this is proven to kill 95 per cent of germs.”

In the absence of hand washing facilities, she said, a hand sanitiser that had a minimum of 60 per cent alcohol was also effective. Schools were urged to provide soap dispensers – not bars of soap – in bathrooms, plus tissues for pupils to use in classrooms, which should be disposed of in covered bins.

“Make sure face masks and thermometers are provided to the nurse,” said Dr Almodwahi. “When kids go to the bathroom, remind them to wash their hands properly.”

Dr Ahmed Abdalla, a senior officer of communicable diseases at the public health and policy department of HAAD, said each school should have paracetamol or ibuprofen on hand. However, he added: “Not aspirin, or medication derived from aspirin, as it is not safe for use in children.”

He urged teachers to maintain calm. “Not panicking, and telling parents not to panic, is the most important factor,” said Dr Abdalla.

“Most people are panicking as swine flu is being depicted as a killer disease, but it is just like any other seasonal influenza infection, which kills half a million people every year. Up to now, there have been approximately 2,500 worldwide deaths from the swine flu pandemic, so it is really no worse.

“We don’t have that many cases in the UAE compared to the rest of the world, we don’t have community transmission. That’s why we want teachers to be more vigilant and make sure it stays that way.

“If you see a sick student, send them home and make sure they stay home for seven days. If their parents want to bring them in, say no."

Gillian Thorp, the head of the infant school at Al Rabeeh School, said it reopened this month at about 75 per cent capacity and was contacting parents of the missing students to see if swine flu was the reason behind their absence.

“If we find that some of our students have had swine flu while abroad, and recovered before coming back to school, should we also notify Adec?” asked Ms Thorp.

Dr Almodwahi said a decision on notification would be made shortly.

Adec is recommending that teachers return from overseas holidays at least seven days before they are meant to report for duty. For students who have been abroad, seven days at home before attending school is also recommended.

Dr Amer al Kindi, the school health manager at Adec, said: “Closing schools is very unlikely considering the current stage of the influenza’s spread. At present, there is no need for schools to close.”

Should schools or classes be asked to close, however, teachers were advised to prepare prepackaged work for pupils to study at home during the seven-day confinement period.
Maggie Rageh, principal at Al Shomoo Private School in Abu Dhabi, said she was worried that reiterating the importance of hand hygiene and the threat of swine flu every morning during assembly may cause students and parents to panic.

“On the contrary,” said Dr Almodwahi. “The most important thing you can do is educate the students and their parents, and make sure they are kept aware.”

Poor outlook for nanny hurt in fatal accident

ABU DHABI - SEP.10: A nanny who was injured more than two months ago in a road accident that killed three young sisters is unlikely to recover fully, Indonesian Embassy officials said on Tuesday.

According to a source at Zayed Military Hospital, the 24-year-old woman, who suffered serious head injuries, has been transferred from the intensive care unit to the female surgical ward. She was semi-conscious but could neither move nor speak.

“She was still in a coma the last time we visited her in hospital before Ramadan,” said Hannan Hadi, the head of the embassy’s consular section.

“According to the doctor, it was unlikely that she would return to her normal condition, even after being out of the coma.”

The girls, aged seven, six and four, were the daughters of Salem al Mansouri. They were hit by a car near the Carrefour supermarket on Airport Road on June 29.

Their three Indonesian nannies, who had been looking after them while the girls’ parents were in Saudi Arabia, were also hit. The two other nannies, 24 and 22, suffered only minor injuries.

The accident sparked The National’s Road to Safety campaign.

The driver of the car, an Emirati man, was arrested in connection with the accident.

Mr Hadi said he and two other embassy officials visited the nanny in the intensive care unit last month.

“Her eyes were open, but it maybe was due to the effect of the medicine,” he said.

“We asked her to move her hands or legs, to check her level of consciousness, but I think she did not have enough energy.”

Mr Hadi said that in July the nanny, who is from central Java, underwent a tracheotomy, a procedure to assist her breathing. At the time of the accident, she had worked for the family for 18 months. Both Mr al Mansouri and the police were waiting for her to recover, Mr Hadi said on Tuesday.

Lely Meiliani, the first secretary at the Indonesian Embassy, said the hospital had not asked the embassy to pay the cost of the woman’s care at the hospital.

“The hospital or the UAE Government will pay for all her medical bills as of this time,” Ms Meiliani said. “But when the case goes to trial, the court will eventually decide on the person responsible for these.”

An investigation was continuing since Mr al Mansouri was expected to sue the driver, Mr Hadi said. He stressed that the embassy was not directly involved in the police investigation and would not intervene.

The embassy wanted only to ensure that the women received fair treatment, he said.

In July, Mr Hadi said it was likely that the nannies would be called as witnesses in any court proceedings.

“The police are waiting for the nanny at the hospital to recover,” he said. “The nurse at the hospital informed us that the brother of the driver had visited the nanny. We believe that he is concerned about her welfare.”

Although the two other nannies were questioned by police, they were released soon afterwards and returned to their employer’s home.

Mr Hadi said the embassy did not know whether Mr al Mansouri had sent the two nannies home to Indonesia.

“The police told me at the end of July that the employer would send them home because of their traumatic experience,” he said. “It was not because he blamed them for what happened.”

Eager commuters jump the gun

DUBAI - SEP. 10: It was a measure of the excitement over the metro that a steady stream of commuters and tourists arrived at Metro stations across the city yesterday, seeking a ride, only to be told: Come back tomorrow.

“I read in the papers it would be open on the ninth of the ninth, 09,” said, Joesph Reyna, 32, who was on a four-day holiday from Austria. He was one of many who turned up at the Mall of the Emirates station hoping to ride the metro. “Now the security guard tells me I will not be able to take it until tomorrow, which is too late for me.

“I’ll have to wait until the next time I’m here.”

Although the Roads and Transport Authority made much of launch day, with its 09/09/09 advertising campaign, it had not widely announced that the only passengers yesterday would be invited dignitaries and the lucky winners of the Golden Ticket competition.

For everyone else, the service opens in full today. So throughout the day yesterday, security guards turned away eager commuters, tourists and inquisitive residents.

“We waited to visit Mall of the Emirates until today because we wanted to see Ski Dubai and then get the Metro,” said Adam Owen, 43, from Britain. “We saw in the papers when we arrived and it looks a good system and would be better to ride it on the first day. We have to wait until tomorrow, then.”

Gary Wong, a 28-year-old financial adviser from Hong Kong, was planning to take the Metro to his office in Dubai International Financial Centre yesterday morning.

“I presumed the nearest open Metro to my apartment in the marina was Mall of the Emirates,” he said.

He usually takes a taxi to work every morning but yesterday decided to try commuting on the Metro.

“I thought it was open but newspapers all had different reports about the number of stations open, but all said it would be open on the ninth,” he said.

He added that the security guard told him it would be open at nine. “‘It will be open in a few minutes now,’ he said just before 9am outside the entrance to Mall of the Emirates.” But he was still there at 9.15am. “He must mean 9 o’clock tonight. I will have to get a taxi to work now.”

Nal Naser, 31, from Pakistan, wanted to see the fruits of his labour yesterday morning. He has worked on insulating the platform doors in the stations. “I am a little disappointed now,” he said after he learnt he would have to wait one more day. “They didn’t say we would not be able to ride it on the first day. All I knew was it was open on the ninth.”

Only curious motorists took a detour from their morning commute to look at the Nakheel Harbour and Tower station from between 7am and 8am. The station is isolated from any developments and is only accessible by bus or car. Dubai Metro staff and police were turning back people who reached some of the other stations yesterday morning hoping to use the new service.

Several more stopped at their nearest station to ask about tickets and when they could board a train.

“I thought it opened today,” said Atir ur Rahman, an employee of a construction company who reached Al Rashidiya station at around 7.30am.

“I was looking for the ticket counter but was surprised to know I can’t travel today.”

He was not sure if he would use the Metro every day but just wanted to try it out. “I have to travel to Al Barsha area every day,” he said.

Other stations including Al Rigga and the Union station remained largely deserted with occasional commuters stopping to take a look or enquire about its opening.

“It looks very good from outside. I had made up my mind to stop and have a look at the station,” said Suresh Rajgopal, a resident of Deira who was at the underground Union station.

He plans to use the Metro for daily travel to Dubai International Financial Centre. Police at the station maintained that the service would be open to the public after 8pm.

Meanwhile, Metro staff were involved in final cleaning and polishing as they geared up for the public opening.

Employees and staff were also seen taking group pictures in front of Metro stations as they celebrated the completion of the project.

“Everyone has put a lot of effort into this, and we are thrilled that it is finally opening to the public,” said a staff member at Union station.

Nobody at the RTA was available for comment yesterday afternoon.

Jet Airways cancels more flights to India


UAE - SEP. 10: The Indian carrier Jet Airways cancelled more flights from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah yesterday as a strike by the airline’s pilots spilt into its second day.

Flights from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi, from Dubai to Hyderabad and from Sharjah to Cochin were cancelled.

Flights from Dubai to Mumbai, New Delhi and Chennai continued as planned, allowing the airline to operate close to normalty in the UAE, said Rammohan Krishamaswamy, the company’s Gulf and Middle East manager.

The airline alerted passengers of the cancellations through its website and automated SMS service, he said.

“Most customers have been understanding and co-operative because they know that this was the first time in Jet Airways’s 16-year history that something like this has happened,” Mr Krishnaswamy said.

The airline is embroiled in a dispute with its pilots over the firing of two of their colleagues, leading 350 pilots to stage what appeared to be a co-ordinated sick leave.

Three Jet flights from the UAE were cancelled on Tuesday, affecting about 200 passengers. The airline has operated other flights using contingency crews.

New Delhi Television reported that 180 Jet flights had been cancelled yesterday, with a list released by the company including flights to and from Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Muscat and Bangkok.

According to Associated Press, 13,000 passengers have been affected by the cancellations and have been offered rescheduled flights or refunds.

Mr Krishnaswamy said the situation was “evolving” and Jet Airways might return to a normal schedule as early as tomorrow.

The company, whose main hub and maintenance centre is in Mumbai, was investigating the illness claims by pilots, he said, and had obtained an injunction from the Mumbai High Court declaring the strike illegal, since it occurred in the middle of negotiations between the pilots and the company.

Indian labour laws prohibit strikes during conciliation talks.


Can’t find a cab? Try the mall

ABU DHABI - SEP. 10: More taxis are being deployed to the malls at peak shopping times during Ramadan, the taxi regulator said, although hailing a cab on the street after the sunset prayer has proved to be a challenge.

Last year, passengers waited in long queues at major shopping centres such as Al Wahda Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall. But this year there have been at least 25 silver cabs pulling up each hour between 8pm and midnight, said Huda al Kaabi, the senior communications officer for TransAD.

The improved service is partly thanks to a tracking and dispatch system launched last November, which allows operators at a central call centre to direct available silver taxis to waiting customers.

There are now 4,000 of the cabs operating in the capital, linked with the call centre through GPS. Last year around this time there were about 2,500 silver cabs and only about 1,300 were equipped with mobile data terminals.

Each of the seven taxi franchisees has been told they must provide 25 taxis to the four main shopping centres Marina, Khalidiya, Al Wahda and Abu Dhabi malls between 8pm and midnight. Nine inspectors are at the malls during that time, ensuring there are enough cabs to meet demand and contacting the call centre if queues grow too long.

“Last year we did not have this tracking system to know exactly where are the most crowded areas, where is the big demand,” Ms al Kaabi said. “Now we can know each taxi, where is the driver, if he is on duty or not. So this Ramadan is much easier.”

Ms al Kaabi said the regulator had not received any complaints from passengers struggling to find a taxi during the holy month. Non-Muslim drivers provide coverage around the iftar break time of 6.30 to 7.30pm, she said.

“By logic, people should know if they want to go out during this particular hour, they should call the call centre to send a taxi for them,” she said. “It is better than waiting.”

Reporters from The National rang the call centre (600 53 53 53) shortly after the sunset prayer call to order taxis to two locations. In both instances, a cab arrived 10 minutes later.

For those not in the know about the call centre, however, finding a cab in the evenings can be tough.

Tommy Smith, 27, who was waiting at the taxi rank in front of Al Wahda Mall yesterday at around 8pm, said he had tried for more than an hour to flag down a taxi on the street before giving up and walking to the mall. He said he did not know you could book a cab on the phone.

“Between 6.30pm and 8.30pm it’s really difficult to get a taxi,” he said. “I was waiting so long and it’s so hot.

“It’s OK here at the mall but there definitely need to be more on the street.”

There was a steady flow of taxis at the mall around 8pm last night, with the number of cabs sometimes outnumbering the amount of people waiting.

Anil Kumar, a security guard at the mall, said queues get larger later in the evening during Ramadan, as the parts of the mall stay open until 2am.

“After 11 o’clock too many customers are coming. At that time there is too much of a rush.”

However, even in peak hours during Ramadan, waiting times were better than last year, he said.


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Comment on this article

  • Smitha Mascarenhas, Mangalore/Dubai

    Thu, Sep 10 2009

    Truly agonising whenever my little kids sneeze, have little high temperature than normal. Though u instruct the little ones to cover their nose when they sneeze, wash their hands regularly - how far they can do so without the parents instruct them now & then? Another big problem in UAE is large percentage of working parents leave their children with babysitters - so even if one child has swine flu, think about the infection they might spread to others. Hope the situation comes under control soon.

    DisAgree Agree Reply Report Abuse

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