DUBAI—The United Arab Emirates has recorded its fourth straight record number of daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, reporting 1,963 cases on Saturday.
The new cases recorded in the last 24 hours brings the Gulf country's total recorded cases to 211,641. The UAE also reported three new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths from COVID-19 to 674.
The UAE reported 1,856 new cases on new year's day and more than 1,700 on Dec. 30 and 31.
Saudi Arabia, which has the highest number of recorded COVID-19 cases among the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, reported 137 new cases on January 1. It has recorded 362,878 cases in total.
Vaccinate 70% by end of 2021
Meanwhile, Dubai was planning to inoculate 70% of its population with the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech by the end of 2021, in a campaign free of charge for citizens and residents, a health official said.
The financial hub of the United Arab Emirates began the first phase of the vaccination campaign last week, targeting "priority groups", including those 60 and older, people with chronic medical conditions, those with disabilities and frontline workers.
In contrast with the UAE's capital Abu Dhabi, which rolled out a vaccine made by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) to the general public, Dubai followed Saudi Arabia, which earlier this month became the first Arab country to use the Pfizer vaccine.
"We are targeting to vaccinate approximately 70% of the population of Dubai by the end of 2021. We want to reach the herd immunity that is required," Farida al-Khaja, chairwoman of Dubai's steering committee for COVID-19 vaccinations, told Reuters.
Khaja said a second phase would kick off in April and would be open to all citizens and residents.
Dubai, which in 2019 had a population of over 3.3 million, has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, which hurt its key tourism, real estate and trade sectors.
The UAE's health ministry has registered the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for emergency use, but none of the other emirates has so far announced plans to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, for which data has shown 95% efficacy.
Asked about coordination between the UAE's seven emirates, Khaja said: "There is a (national) vaccination campaign in the UAE and all the emirates are covering their vaccine programmes."
The UAE was the first country outside China to roll out the Sinopharm vaccine to the public and said earlier this month it had 86% efficacy, citing a review of an interim analysis of late-stage clinical trials.
Its phase III clinical trials in the UAE included 31,000 volunteers from 125 nationalities.
Neither the UAE nor Sinopharm has released detailed data from the study. The UAE announcement did not say what, if any, side effects it identified, how many participants have become ill or how many volunteers were given the vaccine or a placebo.
The Sinopharm vaccine is now available to anyone living in the UAE who wishes to receive it, including at a field hospital in Dubai set up by the federal government.
Emaad Alvi, a senior at Cornell University who is also a resident of Dubai, received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
"The reason I chose to get the vaccine ASAP is because I'm asthmatic and I have trust in the doctors and I think the vaccine should be fine," he said. (Reporting by Yousef Saba; editing by Louise Heavens, Ros Russell)