GCC officials blast Iran for coronavirus spread

More measures, restrictions are introduced to curb outbreak.
Friday 13/03/2020
Women wearing protective masks pose for a "selfie"  in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai. (AFP)
Women wearing protective masks pose for a "selfie"  in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai. (AFP)

LONDON - The effects of the coronavirus outbreak can be felt region-wide, as governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council blame Iran for being negligent in allowing the spread of the virus to their countries.

At a cabinet session March 10, Saudi Arabia held Iran "directly responsible" for the spread of the COVID-19 virus worldwide and in the kingdom because most of the country’s 62 reported cases were said to have contracted the virus during visits to Iran.

The Saudi cabinet denounced Tehran's "irresponsible" behaviour that allowed Saudi nationals to enter Iran without stamping their passports. "This creates a health risk and undermines international efforts to fight the virus," the cabinet said in a report in Okaz newspaper.

With most of Saudi Arabia’s cases stemming from the majority Shia eastern province of Qatif, authorities quarantined the governorate. Work at all public and private institutions was suspended.

Bahrain, which has reported more than 110 cases of coronavirus, was also critical of Iran, accusing it of “biological aggression” by not stamping passports of Bahrainis who travelled there.

“With this behaviour, Iran has allowed the disease to travel abroad and, in my estimation, this constitutes a form of biological aggression that is criminalised by international law because it put in danger our safety and health and that of others,” Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said on Twitter.

As the number of individuals infected with the virus rises, Gulf governments introduced additional measures to minimise the spread of the disease, including cancelling many public gatherings.

Saudi Arabia suspended cinema screenings March 11. The Saudi General Commission for Audiovisual Media said it took the decision based on recommendations from health authorities.

Riyadh also suspended classes at state schools and universities, banned the smoking of shisha and extended a flight and travel ban to include the European Union and 12 other countries.

Besides EU members, countries affected are: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, India, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Sudan and Switzerland, the Interior Ministry said. Saudi nationals in those countries were given 72 hours to return home.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud donated $10 million to the World Health Organisation to support global efforts to fight coronavirus. "This supreme order reflects the honourable humanitarian role played by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia," a royal adviser and supervisor at the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre told SPA.

The United Arab Emirates, which reported 85 coronavirus cases, introduced additional measures including thermal testing for all passengers travelling to the United States through Dubai International Airport.

The UAE Department of Culture and Tourism temporarily shut down nightclubs in Abu Dhabi, with a similar order for Dubai expected. In Dubai, a major tourism hub, a ban on shisha pipes in cafes was put in place.

Kuwait, which has 80 people infected with the virus, announced extreme measures to combat spread of the virus, including the cancellation of all public prayers until further notice.

Kuwaiti authorities also shut down all commercial flights, except those returning nationals to the country and cargo flights. Kuwait also announced a 2-week holiday in the public sector and banned people from going to restaurants and malls.

Qatar reported 18 cases of the coronavirus and it has put in place a nationwide ban on shishas at cafes. Qatar also suspended classes at schools and universities.

Oman, which also has 18 cases of the coronavirus, most of which stem from travel to Iran, said it would suspend sports and student activities starting March 15. Omani health authorities recommended the cancellation of all international events in the sultanate.