Travel restrictions have intensified in the Middle East after the World Health Organisation said Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, could be characterised as a pandemic.
Saudi Arabia has suspended travel for citizens and expatriate residents to countries with cases of Covid-19.
Included in Saudi Arabia’s latest round of restrictions are flights to EU countries, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Sudan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia.
Travellers, including individuals that visited these countries in the fortnight prior to their arrival, are also banned from entering Saudi Arabia.
Land travel with Jordan has been suspended for passengers, but commercial and freight traffic is permitted. Saudi Arabia will also allow humanitarian and other exceptional cases to enter from Jordan.
In a statement carried by government-held Saudi Press Agency on 12 March, a source from the kingdom’s Ministry of Interior said Saudi citizens and nationals of the countries covered by the ban, who have valid residency in the kingdom, have 72 hours to return to Saudi Arabia before the travel suspension decision becomes effective.
News of Saudi Arabia’s travel ban emerged after the kingdom confirmed 24 new Covid-19 cases, including 21 Egyptians who have been quarantined in Mecca.
Cinemas have also been temporarily closed in Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom’s Health Ministry has called on people to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people.
Saudi Arabia now has 45 cases of Covid-19, while the UAE has 74 cases.
The UAE’s Central Bank has instructed employees to work remotely in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19.
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The Abu Dhabi government has also activated its remote work system for some of its employees, including senior citizens, working mothers, and staff with chronic illnesses and respiratory conditions.
Local media reports that the academic year in the UAE would be halted until June in favour of an e-learning system were also refuted by the Ministry of Education.
Among the most wide-ranging closures have been implemented in Kuwait, which has 70 cases of Covid-19.
Boursa Kuwait will not operate on 12 March, and non-vital Kuwaiti government departments will be closed between 12 and 29 March.
Kuwait Banking Association (KBA) said banks in the country would also close their doors on 12-29 March.
KBA’s board chairman Adel al-Majed said every bank would be allowed to operate only one branch in each of Kuwait’s six governorates.
Kuwait’s ministries of interior and information have filed lawsuits against people spreading rumours about Covid-19, it emerged on 11 March.
Kuwait has also banned people from visiting restaurants and cafés, including those in malls, and temporarily halted traditional private and public gatherings.
Fellow GCC state Bahrain recorded 77 new cases on 11 March among 165 citizens repatriated from Iran, the epicentre of Covid-19 in the Middle East.
The new diagnoses take Bahrain’s tally of Covid-19 cases to 188, according to Andalou Agency.
Qatar recorded 238 new Covid-19 cases on 11 March, with local media reporting these were detected “among expatriates from contacts of the three cases who were declared infected with the virus [last week] and reside in same residential complex”.
Regional spread grows
Oman, which has 18 cases of the new coronavirus, said its national Oman Air would temporarily suspend all flights to Saudi Arabia until further notice.
Iran has 9,000 cases of Covid-19 and has recorded 354 deaths. The country’s Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri has tested positive for Covid-19.
Other government representatives in Iran who have reportedly contracted the virus include Minister of Cultural Heritage Ali Asghar Mounesan and President of National Olympic Committee Reza Salehi Amiri.
More than 125,865 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded globally, of which about 9,951 are in the Middle East.
China, the epicentre of the virus, has 80,932 cases, while Italy, the hub of the virus in Europe, has 12,462 cases.
US President Donald Trump announced restrictions on travel from 26 European countries for the next 30 days.
However, the US' restrictions will not apply to the UK, where 460 cases of the virus have been confirmed, with patients including Health Minister Nadine Dorries.
More on the impact of coronavirus
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