DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A major cycling race in the United Arab Emirates was canceled early Friday after two Italians tested positive for the new coronavirus, setting off a quarantine that also ensnared four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Britain.
The Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s decision to cancel the race comes as the virus rapidly spreads across the wider Middle East, with over 370 confirmed cases. Many link back to Iran, which has the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness.
Just a day earlier, Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of closing Islam’s holiest sites off to foreign pilgrims to stop the virus’ spread. Meanwhile, the virus continued its spread across top leaders in Iran, afflicting Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar. She’s better known as “Sister Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis.
The number of infections in Iran has spiked Thursday by over 100 to at least 254, but a World Health Organization official said he believes that figure is “a substantial underestimate of the true number.”
In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, its sports council said two Italians involved in the race tested positive for the new coronavirus. It said it would cancel the two remaining legs of the competition in Abu Dhabi.
“Safety comes at the top of all priorities,” the council said.
“All the race’s participants, administrative staff and organisers will be examined through the continuous periodic screening being conducted, and all needed procedures, including quarantine measures, will be taken to ensure viral suppression,” the council added.
That quarantine appeared to ensnare Froome, 34, who was using the tour as a comeback after suffering injuries in a bad 2019 crash.
“It’s a shame that the (hash)UAETour has been cancelled but public health must come first,” Froome wrote on Twitter. “We are all awaiting testing and will remain at the hotel until further notice. I hope those affected make a speedy recovery and there aren’t any further cases (hash)coronavirus.”
Italian team Vini Zabu – KTM tweeted pictures of ambulances outside of an Abu Dhabi hotel hosting the riders and participants.
“Our riders have been tested. Tomorrow morning we will know the results,” the team tweeted. “It’s gonna be a long night and we hope that everyone will come back home without any trouble.”
The United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula also home to Dubai, earlier reported 19 cases of the coronavirus. Several are Iranians, while others are or have links to Chinese tourists.