Gulf countries announce tougher measures to contain virus outbreak

In Saudi Arabia, which has 274 confirmed coronavirus cases, authorities adopted a policy of maximum precaution.
Sunday 22/03/2020
A cleric calls for the prayer at an empty Al-Rajhi Mosque after Friday prayers were suspended following the spread of the coronavirus in Riyadh, March 20. (Reuters)
Total impact. A cleric calls for the prayer at an empty Al-Rajhi Mosque after Friday prayers were suspended following the spread of the coronavirus in Riyadh, March 20. (Reuters)

With infection levels rising, Gulf Cooperation Council members galvanised efforts to address the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

In Saudi Arabia, which has 274 confirmed coronavirus cases, authorities adopted a policy of maximum precaution to combat the spread of the disease. Saudi officials have suspended work for both the public and private sector for a 2-week period.

Saudi Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah, speaking at a news conference, urged Saudi and foreign nationals in the kingdom to remain at home, saying cases of infection were expected to rise.

A week after suspending international flights, Saudi officials halted domestic flights, buses, taxis and trains for 14 days as of March 21, the Interior Ministry said. The measures were described as “preventive and precautionary.”

Officials also said mosques across Saudi Arabia would not admit worshippers for the customary five daily prayers or the weekly Friday congregation. They have suspended worship at the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud delivered a rare public address urging Saudis to work together to confront the pandemic.

“We are living through a difficult period in the history of the world but we are fully aware that it will pass despite its cruelty, bitterness and difficulty,” King Salman said in a 5-minute televised statement.

”Therefore, rest assured that we are very keen on providing the necessary medication, food and living necessities for citizens and residents of this blessed land. All government sectors, led by the Ministry of Health, are doing all they can and taking all necessary measures to ensure the health of the nation’s citizens and residents.”

In line with event cancellations across the region, the Jeddah Season festival, scheduled for June and July, was called off.

“To all Jeddah residents, it’s with feelings of deep sadness that we have had to take this tough decision. The spread of coronavirus is a battle we all must face around the globe, and it’s with no hesitation that we are respecting all measures needed to meet the current health emergency,” festival organisers said in a statement reported in the Saudi Gazette.

The Jeddah Season festival is one of the many cultural events designed to promote Saudi tourism that have been postponed or cancelled, including the Red Sea International Film Festival.

Gulf officials introduced measures to cushion their economies from the coronavirus-related fallout. The Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates announced a stimulus package of $27.3 billion and the Saudi Arabia Monetary Authority revealed a $13.3 billion stimulus plan to sustain the country’s private sector.

The United Arab Emirates, which has 140 known cases of COVID-19 virus infection, suspended issuing labour permits and visas upon arrival.

With 460 individuals infected with coronavirus, Qatar has the highest number of infection cases of any Arab country. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani halted all commercial flights to Doha for two weeks, suspended public transportation and required students to attend classes remotely.

Qatar Airways, the country’s national carrier, also suspended activities, Reports indicated that the airline was furloughing a large number of its staff members, including 200 Filipino workers.

In Oman, 48 cases of COVID-19 virus have been reported. The government urged tourists to leave the country “at the earliest” possible time because of coronavirus measures in place.

The Kuwaiti Health Ministry announced six new coronavirus cases had been detected, putting the total at 148. Kuwaiti authorities were considering a curfew and pardoning debts for nationals for six months, Al-Qabas newspaper reported.

Saudi Arabia announced it would host a virtual G20 summit to discuss tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Saudi G20 presidency is communicating with G20 countries to convene an extraordinary virtual G20 leaders’ summit next week to advance a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications,” a statement released March 18 said.

“The summit will build on the ongoing efforts of the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors, senior health, trade and foreign affairs officials to further develop the precise requirements and actions needed.”

2