Saudi imposes curfew to curb coronavirus, UAE suspends passenger flights

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia will impose a nationwide curfew starting on Monday after reporting a jump of almost a quarter in coronavirus cases, while the United Arab Emirates will suspend all passenger flights as of Wednesday, state media reported.

Saudi’s King Salman ordered a curfew from 7pm to 6am for 21 days to slow the spread of the virus, state news agency SPA reported. The curfew will take effect on Monday evening.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has recorded more than 1,700 infections and four deaths from the virus. Saudi Arabia has the highest toll at 511 confirmed cases.

The UAE, a major air transit centre, said it will halt all passenger and transit flights to and from the country for two weeks, state news agency WAM said. Cargo operations continue.

State-owned Emirates, one of the world’s biggest long-haul airlines, earlier said it would stop passenger operations this week, except for repatriation flights to some 13 countries.

The UAE will also close shopping and commercial centres as of Wednesday, leaving open pharmacies, supermarkets and produce markets dealing with wholesalers, WAM reported, adding that delivery services are exempted.

The government of Dubai, the region’s tourism and business hub, later said it would shut food establishments as of Monday.

The UAE urged the public to stay home but has yet to announce a suspension of work in the public and private sectors, though some state entities have asked staff to work remotely.

The region has expanded measures to combat the spread of the disease. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were the first to take drastic steps including halting international flights, suspending work at most institutions and closing public venues.

Kuwait, which has registered 189 infections, said on Monday it would make an exception and issue expatriate teachers exit permits to leave the country, state news agency KUNA reported.

In Qatar, the health ministry called for volunteers to work at medical facilities to “ease the strain on resources” in the tiny country which has 494 cases, mostly among migrant workers.

Gulf governments have also announced stimulus packages to shield their energy-producing economies, which have been hit by a collapse in oil prices.
The UAE approved an additional 16 billion dirhams ($4.4 billion) on Sunday for a total stimulus package of 126 billion dirhams, according to a tweet from Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.
Expatriates make up the majority of the UAE population.
Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan ordered the suspension of rent evictions for two months, WAM reported. REUTERS

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