UAE: Dubai Metro Attracts 38,000 Commuters


Dubai Metro attracts 38,000 commuters

Crowds gather to ride the Dubai Metro at the Mall of the Emirates station in Dubai on September 11, 2009. Randi Sokoloff

Dubai - SEP. 15: The first day of the working week saw more than 38,000 commuters take to the world’s longest driverless metro system.

The Dubai metro that opened to the public last Thursday was dogged by delays and large crowds over the weekend but that did not deter 38,841 passengers who took to the rails on Sunday according to figures released by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

Peyman Younes Parham, director of the RTA’s Marketing and Corporate Communication said in a statement the number of passengers using the metro was impressive. “We are proud that this was achieved in one day only. It is evidence that the public transport is thriving through the latest and best mass transit of Dubai.”

Mr Parham also repeated calls for Metro users to listen to instructions from station staff and make sure fare cards contain enough credit, as queues at gates can grow rapidly during peak hours.

Ambulances set aside to carry swine flu patients


DUBAI - SEP. 15: Two of the emirate’s ambulances are being used exclusively to transport people suspected of having contracted swine flu.

One is permanently stationed at Dubai International Airport for inbound travellers who may be infected with the H1N1 virus, while the other is available around the clock for house calls. Both vehicles have been specially kitted out to handle swine flu patients.

“The vehicles are meant to transport only swine flu patients, to hospitals in the emirate that are equipped to treat those infected,” said Khalifa al Drai, executive director of the Government-run Centre of Ambulance Services (CAS).

“The centre’s specified ambulances have transported 46 cases since June – both confirmed swine flu cases and people who had severe flu symptoms and were suspected of being infected.

“The airport is the entrance portal into our country of this disease, so it is important we have a designated ambulance there to take patients or suspected patients to the infectious diseases department at Rashid Hospital.

“Each ambulance is equipped with special tools and equipment of world-class standards, and CAS has trained all its paramedics on how to deal with swine flu patients.”

The vehicles were set aside after the World Health Organisation said swine flu would become a pandemic, said Mr al Drai.

Paramedics in the swine flu ambulances wear disposable uniforms to help prevent infection and the spread of the virus. Most small items of equipment are disposable and are thrown away once used.

The vehicles are sterilised thoroughly after transporting each patient “because prevention is key in containing swine flu”, said Mr al Drai.

“We have equipped every ambulance with extra oxygen tanks to help patients who have difficulty breathing, which is a major symptom of swine flu,” he added.

Patients are covered with special blankets and sheets that protect the paramedics and the driver, who each have facemasks, extra gloves and sanitising materials.

“We spared no expense on these ambulances,” said Mr al Drai, who would not say how much the measure cost.

Dr Omar al Saqqaf, the emergency medicine consultant at the centre, said 660 paramedics had been trained in treating swine flu patients and preventing the spread of the virus. None had so far contracted the disease.

Providing the special ambulances was “a much needed service”, said Dr al Saqqaf.

“Patients are transported in mere minutes in ambulances that do not deal with other cases, keeping transmission to a minimum. This is how it should be dealt with.”

Dr Ashraf Hussain, a general practitioner at the Wellness Medical Centre in Jumeirah, said: “Thankfully, the CAS has enough ambulances to warrant that kind of a decision.

“Getting medical care for patients in the first 48 hours of the disease is preferable, so timeliness is crucial.”

Mixed reaction to new traffic lights

AL AIN - SEP. 15 :To the relief of drivers and businesses, two city centre roundabouts have been converted into signal-controlled junctions, ending three months of headaches, detours and traffic congestion.

The Planning and Mandoos roundabouts were closed in June, and traffic was rerouted.

 Since then, motorists had been complaining that a drive that normally took three minutes was taking 20 because of the congestion caused by the construction works.

Before the conversion got under way, Abdullah al Ameri, director of the Internal Roads and Infrastructure Department at Al Ain Municipality, said the roundabouts did not work.

“The number of vehicles in Al Ain is increasing, and when we studied traffic flow, we found that roundabouts actually slowed down the flow of traffic,” he said. “These works are necessary and a part of the development of Al Ain.”

Some motorists however, disagreed, saying the roundabouts were far more efficient than traffic signals and replacing them was not worth the trouble it caused.

“I personally preferred the roundabouts over the signal lights.” said Sebastian Paul, 28, an Indian taxi driver.

“The problem is that the traffic lights can be operated by pedestrians, so every time someone wants to cross the street, the lights turn red, and because the intersection is so wide, the light remains red for a long time to give the pedestrian a chance to cross to the other side.

“This is good for pedestrians but bad for drivers. Things should have been left exactly as they were.”

Seif al Mutairi, 26, of Saudi Arabia, said he also preferred the roundabouts. “Traffic signals are fine except when you are in a hurry and stuck at a red light with no one approaching the intersection. People will run the red lights, and eventually someone will get hurt.

“You can run a red light but you cannot run a roundabout. No doubt, I personally prefer roundabouts.”

But Shashi Dharan, 49, a taxi driver from India, said he was pleased to see the construction works finished so he no longer has to navigate roundabouts.

“Signals are safer and more efficient,” he said. “People don’t know what to do in a roundabout and I have seen a few minor accidents, but with traffic signals everything is easy and understood: red means stop and green means go.”

Although major construction is complete, there remains minor beautification work. The municipality plans to add brass and black steel street lamps, some of which have already been installed; trees also will be added.

The municipality did not say exactly when the beautification works would be completed, but it is expected to be within days.

Pedestrians on Mohammed bin Khalifa Street in the city’s downtown district were pleased to see the dust settle and the pedestrian signals reactivated. The final city centre roundabout to be removed is the Qaseeda intersection. Works began there last week.

The municipality was not available to comment on how long this conversion would take or the effect construction would have on pedestrians, motorists and businesses.

Hospitals charge for flu tests

ABU DHABI - SEP 15: Hospitals in the capital are charging patients up to Dh1,000 for often unnecessary swine flu tests, a practice banned in Dubai.

Patients have been demanding the tests after hearing of the side-effects of Tamiflu, in order to avoid taking the antiviral drug unless they are definitely infected.

However, in most cases even this is unnecessary. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that otherwise healthy patients who have flu-like symptoms but no other complications need not be treated with antivirals or tested for the virus.

It says most patients infected with the virus will recover fully within a week without taking antivirals.

It also advises doctors in areas where the virus is widespread to assume that patients with flu-like illnesses have H1N1, rather than waiting for laboratory confirmation before beginning treatment.

The elderly, very young, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases should also be treated immediately without waiting for test results, the WHO says.

Some private hospitals are offering tests for anyone willing to pay between Dh250 (US$68) and Dh1,000, and are charging up to Dh180 for Tamiflu. The Gulf Diagnostic Centre charges Dh1,000, plus a Dh300 consultation fee, while the New Medical Centre charges Dh250 for the laboratory test. Al Noor Hospital said it would not do the swine flu test and advised people to go to a government hospital.

The Dubai Health Authority (DHA), meanwhile, has told hospitals not to charge for the test.

Dr Ali al Marzouqi, the head of public health affairs at the authority, said it had instructed private hospitals in the emirate to provide the H1N1 swab tests free of charge, but only when necessary under international guidelines. He added that if the DHA learnt of any violation it would “take the necessary action”. This could include financial penalties.

In line with WHO guidance, not everyone would be tested for swine flu. “It will be decided on a case-by-case basis. We will test those with severe illness or high-risk. For others, if anyone is suspected of having the disease we either give them the medication or do not give them anything at all,” Dr al Marzouki said.

In the latter case, the patient would normally be told to rest at home and avoid social contact.

The Welcare Hospital in Dubai also said the decision to test was made on a case-by-case basis, and there would not be a charge for it. However, patients must pay a consultation fee of Dh450. Tamiflu would cost Dh180, a cashier said.

Some patients have expressed concern about the side-effects of Tamiflu, which include nausea and vomiting, and therefore want to be tested for the H1N1 virus before taking it. One mother said she did not want to give it to her 10-year-old daughter, who had influenza-like symptoms, unless she was confirmed as a positive swine flu case. One of the two pregnant women who have died in the UAE of swine flu complications had refused to take Tamiflu out of fear for her unborn baby.

Yesterday Dr Ashraf Mahmoud Elhoufi, head of intensive care at Dubai Hospital, said it was very important for people in the high-risk groups – very young, elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases – to take Tamiflu if they had flu-like symptoms. Otherwise healthy people did not always need to be tested or given antivirals.

“If you are high-risk or very ill, take Tamiflu,” he said. “People should not be afraid to take it.”

The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi and Ministry of Health did not respond to queries about testing and regulations yesterday.

Several attempts to call the HAAD’s 800800 customer service number were unsuccessful.

In Sharjah, Al Zahra Private Hospital said it did not perform the test but would prescribe Tamiflu for Dh180. The Central Private Hospital said it would charge Dh110 for the laboratory test which would be carried out after an evaluation of the patient’s symptoms.

A source at the National Committee to Combat Swine Flu said the body had met late on Sunday to try to develop a unified approach to testing across all the emirates.

It is understood that the central laboratory in Dubai, which takes samples from both public and private hospitals, does not charge the facilities for testing for the H1N1 virus as it is a public health issue.

According to the same source, the bill for a two-week period, to be paid by the DHA, was more than Dh2 million.



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