Efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, are intensifying across the GCC as regional governments implement new closures and activate remote working in the public sector.
The GCC has about 1,043 cases of Covid-19, the majority of which are linked to direct or indirect travel to Iran, the epicentre of the virus in the Middle East, which has more than 15,000 confirmed cases of the illness.
Iran has 14,991 cases of the new coronavirus, making it the world’s third worst-hit country after China (81,050 cases) and Italy (27,980 cases).
Fifteen new cases of Covid-19 infections were reported by Saudi Arabia on 16 March, taking the country’s total number of coronavirus patients to 133. Six of Saudi Arabia’s 133 Covid-19 patients have recovered and the remaining are in isolation.
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority on 16 March cut the Repo rate by 75 basis points from 1.75 per cent to 1.00 per cent and the Reverse Repo rate by 75 basis points from 1.25 per cent to 0.50 per cent with the aim of “preserving monetary stability”.
Saudi Arabia’s public sector employees, except those working in health, security and military services, were ordered on 15 March to stay at home for 16 days as part of measures to contain Covid-19.
Companies have been urged to quarantine expat workers for 14 days following their return to Saudi Arabia from vacation.
The kingdom has already suspended international passenger flights, cancelled the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down the Qatif province.
On 15 March, Riyadh also announced the closure of shopping centres, malls, restaurants, coffee shops and public parks. Only supermarkets and pharmacies are permitted to operate.
Similar measures have been implemented in Kuwait, where the announcement of 11 new Covid-19 cases on 16 March brought the national total to 123, with 114 active cases and nine recoveries.
Kuwait has declared a public holiday from 12-26 March to contain the spread of Covid-19, and has also closed down commercial establishments such as shopping malls, commercial complexes, theme parks and salons.
Congregational prayers have been temporarily suspended by the Kuwait Ministry of Awqaf & Islamic Affairs, and non-cargo flights have also been grounded in the country.
Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Interior and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs, Anas al-Saleh, said on 16 March that the government was open to expanding its precautionary measures if they are deemed necessary to contain Covid-19’s spread.
He said: “The option to impose countrywide curfew or extradite some lawless expatriate workers remains to be a final resort in case the health instructions are not heeded.
“The government will never allow the health system of the country to collapse due to non-abidance by the instructions of the Ministry of Health. If the citizens and expatriates are careless or fail to take seriously these instructions, the state will definitely have different responses.”
Travel suspensions were extended in Bahrain on 15 March, one day before the first Covid-19 fatality was announced by the kingdom.
The Civil Aviation Affairs authority announced a reduction in the number of incoming flights to Bahrain until further notice, effective 3am on Wednesday, 18 March 2020.
The Nationality, Passport & Residence Affairs (NPRA) department at Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior will also start to suspend on-arrival visas across the kingdom’s entry points until further notice at the same time.
On-arrival visas will be available for diplomatic passport holders and e-visas will be available for the public, NPRA said.
A 65-year-old Bahraini woman passed away due to Covid-19, Bahrain said on 16 March.
State-run Bahrain News Agency announced that the woman “had returned from Iran via an indirect flight last month and had not entered the general population”.
To date, 228 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Bahrain, of which 147 are active cases.
Border closures have been announced in Oman, which as of 16 March had the lowest number of Covid-19 cases in the Gulf.
Oman’s Ministry of Health announced two new Covid-19 cases on 16 March, which it said were linked to travel abroad.
Twenty-two of the sultanate’s 24 cases are linked to travel, Oman said.
Oman is barring entry to non-GCC residents in response to the new coronavirus. The sultanate’s Supreme Committee decided that arrivals to the country from 17 March, including citizens, would be placed under quarantine upon entry.
The Supreme Committee has also closed all parks and public play areas, suspended Friday prayers and banned all social gatherings, including weddings and funeral ceremonies.
Schools and universities, as well as sports activities, have been suspended for a month, and cruise liners have been stopped from entering Omani ports.
Measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 were expanded in the UAE on 16 March as further venue closures were announced.
Dubai Financial Market has temporarily closed its trading floor and customer affairs counters until further notice in response to Covid-19.
However, the Dubai bourse’s chief operating officer and head of operations, Hassan al-Serkal, said the closure of the floor would not affect trading activity.
“Investors can carry on with their activities through DFM’s online and smart platforms as well as licensed brokerage firms.
“As long as this temporary closure is implemented, only employees of brokerage firms with offices located at the trading floor can access the premises.”
Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange also closed its trading floor on 15 March.
The UAE has 98 confirmed cases of Covid-19, of which 26 have recovered. Twelve of the 98 cases were announced on 16 March.
On the same day, the UAE’s National Emergency Crisis & Disaster Management Authority and the General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments temporarily suspended prayers in all places of worship for four weeks.
Abu Dhabi, 16 March, 2020 (WAM): During a video conference, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan learned about the ongoing national efforts to curb the proliferation of Covid-19
Middle East update
Social distancing is being encouraged as Middle East governments seek to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Lebanon declared a medical state of emergency on 15 March, shutting down its airport and most public institutions and private companies.
Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said Lebanon’s borders, ports and airport would be closed on 18-29 March and Lebanese people were obliged to remain at home except for matters of "extreme necessity”.
Ninety-nine cases and three fatalities have been attributed to Covid-19 in Lebanon.
Tunisia will suspend international flights and close its land border to contain the outbreak of coronavirus, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said on 16 March.
Egypt, which has reported 150 cases and three deaths, will halt flights to its airports from 19-31 March and implement a shutdown that will include the sterilisation of hotels and tourism facilities, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli said.
Iraq announced a week-long curfew on 15 March, and the shutdown will take effect later today. It includes the suspension of all flights from Baghdad International airport as Iraq seeks to contain Covid-19, which has infected 124 and claimed nine lives in the country.
Qatar reported 38 new coronavirus cases on 16 March, taking the total number of infections to 439, according to the Andalou Agency.
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