KUWAIT: A Kuwaiti trader checks stock prices from the outside after authorities stopped trading at Boursa Kuwait yesterday. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By A Saleh, Faten Omar, B Izzak and Agencies

KUWAIT: The health ministry announced that all persons who have arrived in Kuwait from Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Lebanon, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Syria must follow preventive health procedures and guidelines, and are obliged to implement compulsory home quarantine for a period of two weeks from the date of departure. The Cabinet earlier banned flights from these countries for a period of one week due to the spread of COVID-19.

In an explanatory statement related to circular number 27 on the temporary suspension of flights from the abovementioned countries, the civil aviation authority said the suspension will end at midnight on March 13, 2020, adding that only Kuwaiti citizens and their first-degree relatives (parents, husbands, wives and children regardless of nationality) will be exempted from the entry ban provided they prove their relationship and undergo the standard medical procedures to be followed.

The civil aviation authority added that domestic helpers will be allowed in only if they arrive with their sponsors on the same flights. In addition, the statement noted that citizens of the abovementioned countries will only be allowed into Kuwait if they spend 14 days in a non-infected third country. It added that passengers wishing to travel to any of the seven countries can do so via third country airports.

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) yesterday directed all government agencies to bar employees placed under any form of quarantine from resuming work. CSC said in a statement posted on Twitter that the ban is applicable on Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti employees, noting that the decision is in compliance with the mandatory quarantine declared by the health ministry. Salary payments will continue as usual to all Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti employees under all kinds of compulsory quarantine, and their absence from work will not affect their employment status, it added.

The health ministry yesterday announced three new cases of coronavirus, raising the total to 64, and announced for the first time the case of an Egyptian expat who had visited Azerbaijan via Dubai. All coronavirus cases discovered so far have been of people returning from Iran, except the Egyptian man. It noted the man had not traveled to Egypt in the past six months.

Health Ministry Spokesman Dr Abdullah Al-Sanad said three of the 64 cases are receiving care at the intensive care unit and one of them is in critical condition. He revealed the ministry has tested more than 5,123 people, with 146 quarantined at Al-Kout Hotel, 580 at Khairan Resort, and 105 at Jon Center. He said all citizens who arrived from Iraq on Saturday underwent an immediate examination after they got off the plane at Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah Airport to make sure they were not infected with the virus.

Sanad said 10 people who had been in quarantine have been released after completing 14 days there and testing negative for COVID-19. He added that the ministry is constantly monitoring those who have been subjected to home quarantine and following up with those who have been released.

MP Abdulkarim Al-Kandari called on the Cabinet to decide this week on a number of issues including extending the school holidays and barring expatriates from more countries from entering the country. MP Humoud Al-Khudhair said yesterday that the government will start today repatriating some 350 citizens from Egypt and called for repatriating all Kuwaitis from Egypt to protect them from the coronavirus. He also called on the ministries of education and defense to repatriate students and military personnel from Egypt.

National Assembly Speaker Marzouk Al-Ghanem yesterday defended the decision to call off this week’s Assembly session and holding the next meeting on March 24, saying this is for the benefit of all and a precautionary measure against the coronavirus. Ghanem said the decision was taken after consultation with a number of MPs and with members of the Assembly bureau, adding that it was necessary to cancel the session because it requires more than 200 people to hold the session.

The cancellation was criticized by opposition MPs Mohammad Al-Mutair and Shuaib Al-Muwaizri, who said this was not necessary. Mutair claimed the decision was taken to protect ministers and not others, while Muwaizri said if there was any risk from the Assembly meeting, then all government offices should be shut temporarily to protect employees.

Meanwhile, shares in energy-dependent Kuwait and the Gulf plunged to multi-year lows yesterday after OPEC’s failure to agree on a coronavirus action plan prompted fears of an all-out oil price war. Boursa Kuwait stopped trading after the Premier Index slumped 10 percent, while the All-Shares index dived 8.3 percent.

Governor of the Central Bank of Kuwait Mohammad Al-Hashel yesterday announced setting up a KD 10 million ($33 million) fund – to be financed by Kuwaiti banks – to back the government’s efforts in fighting the novel coronavirus. Hashel said in a statement that establishing the special fund came in line with social and national responsibilities to cope with the emergency health situation, and also as a backup to government departments that have been fighting COVID-19.

It is also in line with the keenness of the banking sector in Kuwait to shoulder the national responsibility in this respect, boosting role of the private sector regarding such a social responsibility and as follow-up on previous efforts masterminded by CBK to take all necessary precautions against the virus, he added. The fund has been placed at disposal of the Cabinet for disbursement for urgent and necessary needs, as warranted by multiple government precautions in facing the virus.

OPEC and its allies failed to clinch a deal on production cuts that would have offered support to energy markets, sending prices tumbling to four-year lows on Friday. The OPEC+ meeting was expected to agree to deeper cuts of 1.5 million barrels per day to counter the effects of the novel coronavirus, but Moscow refused to tighten supply. Fears of a price war were stoked as Saudi Arabia – the world’s top exporter – quickly responded by making significant cuts to its oil price.

All the seven bourses in the Gulf were in the red amid a panic sell-off over fears that energy prices, the mainstay of public revenues in the region, could collapse. The Saudi stock market, the largest in the region, dived by 8.3 percent at close yesterday, the first day of the trading week. It was the lowest closing since Nov 2017. Shares in oil giant Saudi Aramco dropped below their IPO price of 32 riyals ($8.5) for the first time, losing some 9.1 percent to 30.00 riyals.

The world’s biggest company launched on the bourse to much fanfare in December in a record-breaking initial public offering, but since then its market value has slipped from the IPO value of $1.71 trillion to $1.6 trillion. The Dubai Financial Market shed 7.9 percent to its worst closing in six years, while its sister market in Abu Dhabi fell 5.4 percent and Qatar Stock Exchange dropped 2.9 percent, the lowest since mid-2018. Dubai’s Market leader Emaar Properties, the largest real estate company in the Middle East, fell 9.7 percent to a price of 2.97 dirhams (81 cents), its lowest in eight years. The tiny markets of Bahrain and Oman dropped by 3.4 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively.

A German tourist died yesterday of the novel coronavirus in a Sinai resort of eastern Egypt, the health ministry announced, the first death from the epidemic recorded in Africa. “The 60-year-old German citizen showed symptoms of a fever (and) checked into Hurghada hospital on 6 March,” before testing positive for COVID-19, it said in a statement.

The tourist, who arrived from Germany a week ago, died after having refused to be transferred to an isolation ward until 7 March once his breathing had been affected by “acute pneumonia”. On Saturday, the health ministry announced 45 suspected cases of Egyptians and foreigners contracting the virus aboard a Nile cruise ship. The boat was carrying 171 people – 101 foreigners and 70 Egyptian crew – Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli told reporters.

Saudi authorities yesterday cordoned off the eastern region of Qatif, a center of the kingdom’s Shiite minority, in a bid to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus as the total number of cases rose to 11. The lockdown on Qatif, home to around 500,000 people, is the first action of its kind across the Gulf region that has confirmed more than 230 coronavirus cases – most of them people returning from religious pilgrimages to Shiite-majority Iran.

“Given that all 11 recorded positive cases of the new coronavirus are from Qatif… it has been decided… to temporarily suspend entry and exit from Qatif,” the interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Except for essential services such as pharmacies and gas stations, work will stop in all government and private institutions in Qatif, the statement added.

Cement blocks were placed on the main road to Qatif, a resident told Reuters, declining to be named due to sensitivities. The Saudi health ministry earlier said the newly diagnosed people, three of whom are women, interacted with another case reported previously who had returned from Iran via the United Arab Emirates but did not disclose his visit to the authorities.

Saudi Arabia has condemned archrival Iran for allowing its citizens entry without stamping their passports. The Saudi government has reminded its nationals of a standing ban on travel to Iran, as the two countries are locked in a battle for regional supremacy. Iran is home to key shrines and pilgrimage sites for Shiites, who make up between 10 and 15 percent of the kingdom’s population of 32 million.

Bahrain’s Formula 1 Grand Prix scheduled for March 20-22 will be held without spectators, the organizers said yesterday, in the latest sporting event to be affected by measures to contain the disease. In Oman, all events at the Royal Opera House in the capital Muscat, scheduled for March and April, have been cancelled as well as tours of the site, state news agency ONA reported.

Iran’s health ministry yesterday reported 49 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll within 24 hours since the start of the outbreak in the country. “At least 194 of our compatriots who fell sick with the COVID-19 illness have passed away,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference. The outbreak of the virus in Iran is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the disease originated.

Jahanpour added that 743 new infections were also confirmed within the past 24 hours, bringing the number of cases to 6,566 spread across all of Iran’s 31 provinces. With 1,805 infections, the capital Tehran remains the province with the most cases, the spokesman added. But the situation in other provinces continued to deteriorate, with Jahanpour saying 685 cases were detected in and around Qom, the holy Shiite city south of Tehran where the country’s first cases were reported. He said the number of cases was also “rising quickly” in Isfahan, a popular tourist destination, where there were now 564 people sick with the virus.