Gulf states tighten restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise

The Saudi public prosecutor warned that anyone producing media showing violations of the curfew or inciting to violate it could face a 5-year prison term and a fine of nearly $800,000.
Friday 27/03/2020
A view of the area outside the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, mostly deserted, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, in Dubai, March 25. (Reuters)
Safety measures. A view of the area outside the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, mostly deserted, after a curfew was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, in Dubai, March 25. (Reuters)

LONDON - Despite governments’ extraordinary measures, cases related to the coronavirus continue to rise in Gulf Cooperation Council members, forcing authorities to take further actions to stem the spread of the virus that has killed more than 24,000 people worldwide.

Saudi Arabia, which has reported more than 1,000 cases and three deaths related to COVID-19, introduced a curfew in three cities and restrictions on movement across the kingdom.

Saudi officials said residents were prohibited from moving between regions in the country while entry and exit from Riyadh and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina were banned. A curfew from 7pm-3pm was also ordered.

Authorities arrested people violating the curfew, including who posted videos on social media of themselves flouting the ban.

The Saudi Public Prosecutor warned that anyone producing media showing violations of the curfew or inciting to violate it could face a 5-year prison term and a fine of nearly $800,000.

Saudi Arabia hosted an extraordinary G20 virtual summit, led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud with participation by many heads of state and international organisations, to coordinate efforts against the coronavirus pandemic. Pledges of $5 trillion were made to be infused into the global economy.

The United Arab Emirates, which has 333 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection, introduced additional measures, including suspension of print media. UAE authorities urged people to stay at home except in "cases of necessity" and announced an overnight curfew through March 29 so officials could carry out a nationwide disinfection campaign.

Additionally, authorities mandated that individuals afflicted with the virus should self-isolate but 64 people were referred to authorities for failing to keep the quarantine.

"The violators did not adhere to home quarantine for 14 days as instructed and exposed others to an infectious disease, subsequently causing the spread of COVID-19," the state-run news agency WAM reported.

WAM said the suspects violated the law concerning the prevention of communicable diseases and they would be subject to jail terms and fines as much as $13,600. Establishments that violate operating laws could be closed for a 6-month extendable period.

Police in Dubai and Sharjah used drones to reinforce government measures, particularly regarding public gatherings. Loudspeakers on the drones are used to tell residents to stay at home in Arabic, English and Urdu.

"Our drones are equipped with cameras that can photograph events in range, whether during the day or night. They can also carry loudspeakers to broadcast Dubai Police messages and announcements to the public," Colonel Saeed Al Madhani, director of Ports Police Station in Dubai, told WAM.

In Kuwait, where there were 225 coronavirus-related cases, authorities imposed extensive curfews and suspended work at most public and private sector businesses.

Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said contributed $26 million to combat the virus outbreak of the virus. Oman also suspended print media and the Central Bank of Oman urged all public and private sectors to adopt electronic payments instead of cash to limit spreading the virus, which has been confirmed in 109 cases in Oman.

Qatar and Bahrain introduced steep penalties for individuals who violate restrictions and regulations related to the coronavirus.

The Qatari government announced that those who do not report a potential COVID-19 infection and those who violate quarantine or resume work activities while ill could be sentenced to three years in prison and fined approximately $55,000, as the number of confirmed infections in the country rose to 549. The government ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down as of March 27.

A similar business shutdown order was issued in Bahrain, where 458 people are known to have contracted the virus. The Interior Ministry banned gatherings exceeding five people in public places. The Bahrain News Agency said violators could face a 3-year prison sentence.