KUWAIT: People wearing protective masks wait at a bus station in Kuwait City yesterday amid a global outbreak of the novel coronavirus. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By B Izzak, A Saleh and Agencies

KUWAIT: Ten coronavirus cases were registered in Kuwait in the past 24 hours, taking the total number to 56, the health ministry said yesterday. Assistant Undersecretary Dr Buthaina Al-Mudhaf told the daily briefing that the new cases are patients who were in Iran. All cases are of Kuwaitis, she affirmed, adding that all of them are in a stable condition and recovering.

HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah has ordered to honor individuals tasked with containing the coronavirus outbreak in the country, which includes spiritual and financial support, HH the Prime Minister said. At the start of a Cabinet meeting, the prime minister shared a letter from HH the Amir, which heaped praise on his fellow compatriots who formed special teams to fight the virus “day and night”. Those individuals should rightfully be honored in recognition of their herculean efforts to keep the deadly disease at bay, according to the letter.

Educational sources said the education ministry is considering suspending school for two more weeks after the 10 cases were detected, noting that the ministry asked supervisors to report on the possibility of constricting the curriculum if the extension is needed. There has been no official confirmation by the education ministry in this regard. MP Osama Al-Shaheen also called on the government to consider extending the suspension of schools because things don’t seem to be under full control.

“Things seem hazy and unclear at the education ministry,” the sources underlined, noting that some supervisors reported that scores of teachers demanded specific dates on when the summer vacation would start so that they could book their flights home. “The health situation in the country is far beyond flight bookings and no one knows when the crisis will end,” the sources said was the ministry’s response to them. The sources said some subject supervisors suggested concluding school by May 15, adding these are mere proposals awaiting the health ministry’s assessment of the situation.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Dr Saud Al-Harbi officially announced final exams of the 2019-2020 academic year will start on May 31, that is one week after the Eid holidays. Harbi added that extending the school suspension is up to the health ministry’s assessment. “We cannot decide on our own but we are ready for any contingency,” the minister underlined, noting that contracting the curriculum is not a problem, but it might affect the accreditation of certificates. “So extending the school year would be the best option,” he added, noting that any teacher diagnosed with the coronavirus will be suspended until proven healed, and in case of shortages, teachers will be deputized to fill in.

An interior ministry source meanwhile said yesterday that the issuance of visas has not been suspended but massive restrictions have been ordered and a total ban on several infected countries in addition to Egypt and Syria has been imposed. The source said the ministry has imposed a total ban on visit visas on several countries including China, South Korea, Iran, Thailand, Iraq, Italy, Egypt and Syria as a way to prevent the spread of the disease. The source insisted that the issuance of visas to other nationalities has been tightened and applications are being studied on a case-by-case basis.

Only Egyptians who hold legal residencies in Kuwait are allowed to return but after being subjected to extra measures before boarding the plane in Cairo and after arriving in Kuwait. However, there has been no official confirmation by the interior ministry in this regard. MPs Saleh Ashour, Abdukarim Al-Kandari and Yousef Al-Fadhalah called on authorities to stop suspend flights arriving from Italy and Egypt to prevent the spread of the disease.

Civil aviation authorities have stopped using fingerprint machines for identification and have introduced iris scans instead as a precautionary measure against the virus. The Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI) also temporarily closed their halls dealing with the public and resorted to online applications for all civil ID transactions. The health ministry also denied rumors that one of the 56 cases has been cured, but insisted that all the patients are in stable condition. The commerce ministry said that it had received a shipment of 3.6 million masks that will be distributed, some with ration cards.

The death toll from the new coronavirus epidemic surpassed 3,000 yesterday as more people died in China, Iran and the US, and Europe raised its state of alert. The virus has now infected more than 89,000, spread to over 60 countries and threatens to cause a global economic slowdown – after first emerging in China late last year. With fears of a pandemic on the rise, the World Health Organization urged all countries to stock up on critical care ventilators to treat patients with severe symptoms.

WHO yesterday sent its first planeload of assistance to help fight coronavirus in Iran, the second-worst hit country after China, as the death toll rose by 12 to 66 in the Islamic republic. Iran’s confirmed cases leapt by 523 from the previous day to 1,501, said Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi. US President Donald Trump had Saturday offered that “if we can help the Iranians with this problem, we are certainly willing to do so… All they have to do is ask”.

Tehran yesterday however rejected the offer from Trump – who has heaped sanctions and a campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran – charging he had made it “for propaganda purposes”. “We are suspicious of the intentions of the Americans and do not count on this aid,” said foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Moussavi, as quoted by the official agency IRNA.

China’s foreign ministry said an expert team from the Chinese Red Cross had arrived yesterday in Tehran “to provide what assistance it can in terms of epidemic prevention and control and medical relief”. The WHO meanwhile dispatched six medics with tons of medical equipment and test kits aboard a UAE military aircraft to Iran’s capital, where it arrived later yesterday. The six-member medical team is made up of doctors, epidemiologists and laboratory specialists to help the Islamic republic detect and control the virus, the first WHO team to be sent to Iran since the crisis began.

The UAE provided the military transport plane for the flight to Tehran despite having downgraded its relations with the Islamic republic amid fierce rivalry between Iran and regional power Saudi Arabia. “Aid should reach all people regardless of their background,” Sultan Mohammed Al Shamsi, the UAE’s undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, said at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport.

Iran’s IRNA agency meanwhile reported the death of Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 72, a member of the Expediency Council which advises the supreme leader. It did not specify the cause of death but said he had died at Tehran’s Massih Danechvari Hospital, the capital’s main center for patients suffering from the new coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia yesterday announced its first case of the new coronavirus, a Saudi national returning from Iran through Bahrain, the health ministry said. The ministry said on its official Twitter account that the individual, who is in quarantine in hospital, had not disclosed his visit to Iran when entering Saudi Arabia. The official Saudi Press Agency, citing the health ministry, said people who had interacted with the infected man had been isolated and were being tested.

Qatar’s health ministry said yesterday that medical tests had revealed four new cases of coronavirus infection in the country, state news agency QNA said in a tweet. Two Qatari citizens, and two domestic workers who were accompanying them in travel, were diagnosed with COVID-19, the ministry was quoted as saying. They were among a group of citizens who were evacuated by the government on a private plane from Iran on Feb 27, the ministry said.

Egypt yesterday reported its second case of novel coronavirus, more than two weeks after announcing the first confirmed infection in Africa. The foreigner is showing “minor symptoms” and has been quarantined, the ministry and the WHO said in a joint statement. Other people who had contact with the patient are undergoing medical tests, it added. Cairo has been cooperating with French and Canadian authorities after they both announced seven confirmed cases of the virus from travellers coming from Egypt.

With the number of cases rising in the Gulf, Qatar imposed a temporary ban on visitors coming from Egypt via transit points on Sunday citing the spread of COVID-19. Kuwait stopped short of a flight restriction but added extra screening measures for travellers boarding their flights from Egypt.

Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed travelled to China yesterday amid mounting criticisms and satirical posts on social media of her ministry’s handling of the outbreak. At a news conference at Cairo airport, she praised Beijing’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus. That same evening, Egypt projected the Chinese flag in solidarity with Beijing on some of its most historical monuments.

Jordan said yesterday a man who had flown in from Italy had tested positive for the new coronavirus, the first case confirmed in the country, state news agency Petra reported. The Jordanian citizen had flown back nearly two weeks ago on a plane with around 100 passengers, health minister Saad Jaber told a news conference. The man was quarantined at his home with strict controls on his movement and was in “stable” condition, Jaber said. Another Jordanian was under close observation, the minister added.

An Italian national tested positive for coronavirus in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, a major tourist destination, a hospital official said yesterday, taking the number of people who have tested positive in the country to six. The patient had initially tested negative for the virus but a second test came out positive, a hospital official in Rajasthan’s capital city of Jaipur told Reuters. “The patient has been moved to an isolation ward,” the official said, adding that a third test would be conducted.

Separately yesterday, the Indian government said two other people had tested positive for the coronavirus. The news hammered already rocky stock markets. One of the new cases was detected in the capital, New Delhi, while the other was in the southern state of Telangana, the government said in a statement. The New Delhi patient had been in Italy and the one in Telangana had been in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the government said; both were stable and being closely monitored.

In Jaipur, the hospital official said that at least 15 doctors, staff and patients who may have come into contact with the Italian patient would be tested. Meanwhile, the three other patients who had tested positive for coronavirus in India have all been discharged from hospital, and were in quarantine in their homes, the government in Kerala state said last week. All three had returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak.