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Inside the UAE hotel locked down following Coronavirus outbreak

VeloNews reports from inside the media hotel placed under quarantine in Abu Dhabi, with participating teams locked down in neighboring accommodation.

ABU DHABI (VN)- Yesterday I was interviewing riders, writing stories, and watching Tadej Pogacar take stage 5 of the UAE Tour. This morning I’ve been placed in lockdown in my hotel in Abu Dhabi in the wake of revelations that two insiders from the race have tested positive for Coronavirus.

The final two stages of the UAE Tour were cancelled late last night, Thursday, after it was revealed that two Italian staff members of one of the teams participating in the race had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

And as I sit at a desk in a hotel on Yas Island on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, I know little else. All I do know for sure is that all teams racing in the UAE Tour were tested through the night. The media corps are due to be tested today. We’re all in quarantine, not to leave our hotels.

With all teams in one hotel on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, and all the media corps in the other hotel, across the road, the immediate players in the race have been handily confined in a small space. What has happened to the thousands of people the race has come into contact with in the past week is another matter altogether.

In the early hours of the night, the doors of the hotel accommodating the media were actually chained shut. Now, there are ‘merely’ barricades across the door with policemen watching on from the outside, peering in at fish trapped in a bowl. A few hours ago, at around 7am, I pressed my head against the window to get a clearer picture of what was happening outside. The officer outside sat looking bored poking at his mobile with one hand and a coffee in the other. Behind them, I saw men in full protective medical suits and masks climbing in and out of a medical testing van.

This morning, some of my media colleagues have confined themselves to their rooms to process the news and keep away from possible exposure. Others of us sit and speak over numerous coffees, pastries and oatmeal in the busy hotel breakfast. Fellow guests and members of the public – also under quarantine – betray a mix of bemused excitement and nervous fear. I wonder how the newly-married couple who hosted their wedding reception here are getting on.

The fine details of the two confirmed cases of the outbreak are hazy. The press release from Abu Dhabi Sports Council states that “two Italian participants” of the race have tested positive; other sources suggest it could be two Italian masseuses working at the UAE Team Emirates team. The news comes in the light of suggestions that spring Italian races could be canceled as Italy manages a swell of cases of the virus in small pockets of the country.

Having reached out to various riders and team staffers, it appears that tests have been proceeding through the night as medical staff worked its way through a packed WorldTour start list and its entourage. Sources suggest some riders were kept awake until 6am as they awaited their call up by the medical staff. Team officials had been called into meetings shortly before midnight, and in the following hours, riders, helpers, drivers, communications officers and all the band of staff supporting a team had all been awoken for testing by a unit parked outside their hotel. Now, as one source told me ‘there’s a lot of sitting around not doing an awful lot’.

Some teams seem to understand that they will be receiving their results in the next 36 hours, and should – should – be able to make their planned outbound flights. Members of other teams were unaware of a 36-hour timeline, either due to lack of internal communication or scarcity of official information. One thing that does unite the riders I spoke to – along with the media in my hotel – is a nagging fear of a lengthy quarantine period.

We’re due to be tested in the next few hours. And that’s all we know. When I know more, I’ll be sure to let you know here on velonews.com.

I may be here some time yet, trapped in our hotel. At least it’s a four star.

Stay tuned.