KUWAIT: A photo taken early yesterday shows a deserted street in Kuwait City. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: Kuwait imposed a nationwide curfew starting yesterday from 5 pm until 4 am to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, state news agency KUNA said, citing the Cabinet. Kuwait, which went into virtual lockdown on Thursday, has taken some of the most drastic steps in the region to curb the virus’ spread. The country, which has reported 188 cases of the virus, said violators of the curfew could face up to three years in jail or fines of up to KD 10,000. The National Guard will aid police in imposing the curfew.

The decision was made due to “some manifestations of non-compliance with precautionary measures,” Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Anas Al-Saleh said, according to KUNA. The Cabinet also decided to extend a suspension of government departments and private companies for two weeks. It had already announced on Thursday an extension to a suspension of schools and universities until Aug 4 – the first among its neighbors to impose such lengthy education closures to limit the spread of the sometimes deadly disease. Saleh, also Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs, said the civil defense committee will issue IDs to persons working in vital sectors so they can move during the curfew.

Education Minister Saud Al-Harbi issued orders to departments in his ministry yesterday to prepare and issue exit permits for expat teachers so they can leave the country. In a statement to KUNA, Harbi said that this measure comes in response and understanding of the psychological and social conditions of foreign teachers during such circumstances. He noted that after preparing the exit permits, a delivery mechanism will be determined according to certain procedures. Last week, the minister announced that administrative and educational staff will resume work at the secondary level on Aug 4 of this summer.

Kuwait yesterday confirmed 12 new coronavirus cases during the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 188. During a press conference, Health Ministry Spokesperson Dr Abdullah Al-Sanad pointed out that four patients were in close contact with persons who had travelled to the UK – two Kuwaitis and two Filipino residents, while one was in contact with a patient recently arrived from Egypt. He added that the sixth case is related to a Kuwaiti citizen who recently arrived from Brazil, noting that for the rest of the cases, their details will be revealed later. Earlier yesterday, Health Minister Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah announced that three coronavirus cases have recovered, a Kuwaiti woman and man and a Spanish resident, bringing the number of cases that have recovered in the country to 30.

After a late-night Cabinet meeting on Saturday, the minister of trade and industry said the country’s strategic food reserves were “secure and plentiful”, KUNA said. He urged people not to stockpile food and said there was no need to panic. In addition, the Cabinet decided to shut all shops and central markets, except for foodstuff stores, Government Spokesman Tareq Al-Mezrem said, asking the Municipality to determine other necessary activities that need to be excluded.

Last week, the Cabinet approved a bill to increase the budget of ministries and governmental departments by KD 500 million for the 2020/21 fiscal year due to the coronavirus outbreak. It also established a temporary fund for receiving financial contributions from institutions, companies, and individuals to support the government’s efforts to fight the virus. The country’s stock market has been battered by the virus outbreak as well as a historic plunge in oil prices. Its main index has lost nearly 30 percent of its value since the start of the year.

Saleh added the military is on standby to help security forces in putting the curfew in place, quoting the Cabinet as having tasked the National Guard with aiding the ministry of interior in this regard. He stated that the curfew was decided as a result of non-compliance with health guidelines and instructions aimed at averting gatherings. The minister noted he will relieve residency law violators of any fine so that they can leave the country immediately.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah said a strengthened health system will undoubtedly make it easy for overseas citizens to return home at an early date. Speaking at the press conference following the Cabinet meeting, the minister reassured that his ministry had worked out a blueprint to evacuate citizens abroad. Urging everyone to take the matter seriously, the minister said the evacuation plan will give top priority to patients in critical situation, elderly people, minors and people with disabilities. – Agencies