KUWAIT: HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and government ministers meet National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem and lawmakers to discuss additional measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak yesterday.

By B Izzak and Nawara Fattahova

KUWAIT: Interior Minister Anas Al-Saleh said yesterday that the government has not decided to prematurely end the school year, as the government met lawmakers to discuss additional measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. MP Saadoun Hammad however claimed the government has given provisional approval to end the school year now by promoting all students to higher classes next year and adopt the marks obtained by higher secondary students in the midterm exams as the final result.

Hammad said during the Assembly-government meeting, attended by the prime minister, several ministers and about 27 lawmakers, MPs demanded an end to the school year as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus. He called on the education ministry to make the announcement sooner rather than later. Saleh also said Kuwait will renew a ban on flights to several countries if needed, adding that other countries have understood the Kuwaiti decision.

The minister said the Cabinet is effectively in a state of continuous meetings to take appropriate decisions while facing the killer disease. Speaker Marzouk Al-Ghanem said two lawmakers have been assigned to review health legislation to penalize people who conceal important medical information from authorities. He described confronting the coronavirus as a national security issue, saying all are united at this point of time.

The interior ministry has suspended the issuance of all types of visas to Kuwait based on a decision by the Cabinet. This decision was implemented yesterday at all immigration departments. According to an official of the interior ministry’s public relations department who asked to remain anonymous, citizens of countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak cannot enter the country. However, citizens of other countries who can enter Kuwait with visas on arrival will be issued a visa for only one week, which cannot be extended. Foreign diplomats are excluded from the decision.

The Cabinet also ordered the closure of cinemas, theatres and cultural centers to prevent gatherings. All sports events have also been postponed. The health ministry announced yesterday four new cases of COVID-19, raising the total number to 69, but the health minister also announced that a second case was cured and will be allowed to leave quarantine.

Of the four new cases, two are Kuwaiti citizens who returned from Egypt, the third is a Kuwaiti woman who came back from Iran, while the fourth is an Egyptian who came in contact with another Egyptian who had returned from a visit to Azerbaijan via Dubai. During the meeting, MPs criticized the government for allowing the entry of thousands of Egyptians last week after scrapping a decision requiring expatriates from 10 countries to undergo coronavirus tests before returning to Kuwait.

Iran reports 54 deaths
Iran yesterday reported 54 new deaths from the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day toll since the start of the country’s outbreak. The latest deaths bring the number of those killed by the virus in the Islamic republic to 291, the health ministry’s spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised conference. He added that 881 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the total number of people infected to an official 8,042.

But “2,731 people, which is about 10 times the number of dear countrymen we’ve lost, have recovered and been discharged from hospitals,” Jahanpour said. The outbreak of the virus in Iran is one of the deadliest outside China, where the disease originated. With 2,114 cases, the capital Tehran remains the worst-hit province. The northern province of Mazandaran climbed to second place with 253 new cases, bringing the total there to 886, followed by 751 in Qom, the Shiite pilgrimage city south of Tehran where the country’s first cases were reported.

Mazandaran is a popular tourist spot bordering the Caspian Sea, and is particularly popular during holidays for the Iranian New Year, which this year starts on March 20. Iran is yet to officially impose quarantines but authorities have repeatedly called on people to refrain from travelling and have resorted to closing hotels and other accommodation to discourage travel. “As we said and expected in recent days, Mazandaran has almost reached the top of the chart” in terms of infections and is second only to Tehran, Jahanpour said.

Iran’s fatalities include several politicians and government officials, as well as some hospital staff. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed yesterday to designate hospital staff who died after contracting the virus as “martyrs”, following a suggestion by the health minister, according to the official IRNA news agency. In the Islamic republic, the families of those designated martyrs usually receive financial aid and other benefits from the state.

The supreme leader also cancelled his annual speech in Mashhad city to mark the Persian new year due to concerns about the virus outbreak and health authorities’ calls “to avoid gatherings and travel”. According to health ministry figures, 222 people have been infected by the virus in the Khorasan Razavi province, where Mashhad is located. Apart from direct fatalities, 44 people have died from methanol poisoning in Iran after rumors that drinking alcohol could help cure or protect from the disease.