By Aziz El Yaakoubi
DUBAI (Reuters) – A manager of a French professional cycling team, who has been in quarantine in an Abu Dhabi hotel due to coronavirus concerns, threatened to go on hunger strike on Tuesday if authorities do not allow his team to leave the United Arab Emirates.
Roberto Damiani, sporting director of the Cofidis team, told Reuters that despite testing negative for the virus about 50 guests, including 18 professional cyclists, had been confined to the Crowne Plaza hotel since Thursday.
Emirati authorities ordered the lockdown in the luxury Crown Plaza and W hotel in Yas Island after two Italian members of the UAE Tour the riders were participating in were suspected of contracting the coronavirus.
The UAE, a regional business hub and major transit point for passengers traveling to China and other destinations in Asia, said the number of coronavirus infected cases in the country had risen to 27, after six new cases were discovered.
The health ministry said in a tweet on Tuesday that the six new cases, in people from Russia, Italy, Germany and Colombia, had been discovered after examining the contacts of two members of the cycling event.
On Friday, the health department said 167 people isolated on the island had tested negative. Former Tour de France winner Chris Froome and his fellow Team Ineos riders were among those allowed to leave their hotel and travel home, the team said on Sunday.
“We have done a second test on Sunday and we received the results on Monday, they were all negative for the virus,” Damiani told Reuters by phone.
“I hope I won’t have to start it (hunger strike)… We want to respect the country’s laws but respect should go both ways,” he said.
The UAE government media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the continued quarantine and complaints by guests.
All the guests on the fourth floor of the Crowne Plaza have not been cleared to leave, members of the Cofidis team told Reuters, adding that the French Groupama-FDJ team, Russia’s Gazprom team and other tourists were also staying on that floor.
One team member said a note had been slipped under his room door on Saturday instructing him to stay on the floor and not visit other parts of the hotel.
“Our rooms have not been cleaned since Thursday, they leave food outside the door for us… clean towels and soap have been stacked in the corridors next to the lifts,” said the team member, who declined to be named due to fears of retribution.
The guests at the two hotels in the UAE capital had included 140 professional cyclists participating in the UAE Tour, the final two stages of which were canceled after the tests.
Other Gulf Arab states have recorded coronavirus cases, mostly in people who had visited Iran.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Marwa Rasahd in Riyadh and Martyn Herman in London, editing by Ed Osmond and Clare Fallon)