• Public holiday announced from March 12 to March 26
  • Commercial flights completely halted, except cargo flights
  • No gatherings at restaurants and cafes, even inside malls
  • Banks closed until March 26, except one in each governorate
  • Mandatory tests for expats who returned from Feb 27 onwards
  • Cooperative societies will remain open; no curfew in country
  • MP calls for sending marginal expat workers back home
  • Gyms, sports and health clubs, wedding halls closed

By B Izzak and Hanan Al-Saadoun

KUWAIT: Kuwait was yesterday in near lockdown after the government took a series of exceptional measures in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, halting commercial flights and sending public sector employees on a public holiday for two weeks. The Cabinet said flights to and from Kuwait will stop from midnight on Friday. Flights for returning Kuwaitis will be arranged by authorities. The halt of flights effectively means that Kuwait is completely cut off from the outside world, except for cargo flights and imports.

The Cabinet also banned gatherings at restaurants and cafes including those inside malls, and ordered the closure of gyms, sports and health clubs. But the government denied that a curfew has been imposed, describing such reports as baseless rumors. Banks were also declared closed for a similar period from March 12 until March 26. All transactions can be completed online, the banking association announced, adding one branch will remain open in each governorate to assist clients.

The health ministry also imposed mandatory medical tests for coronavirus for all expatriates who have returned to the country from Feb 27 onward. The ministry established testing centers at the international fairgrounds in Mishref to test expats in accordance with their place of residence from 8.00 am until 6.00 pm. Expats must bring their civil IDs and passports with them.

The days of tests are as follows: Thursday, March 12 – Expats from Jahra governorate; Friday, March 13 – Mubarak Al-Kabeer governorate; Saturday, March 14 – Farwaniya governorate; Sunday, March 15 – Hawally governorate; Monday, March 16 – Ahmadi governorate; Tuesday, March 17 – Capital governorate. The ministry said testing is mandatory and warned those who fail to report of legal measures.

Officials advised people to stay away from gatherings and remain at home. The health ministry yesterday announced three more coronavirus cases, raising the total number to 72, but Health Minister Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah said three of the cases have been cured and will be released soon.

Following the announcement of the new measures, large crowds rushed to cooperative societies, markets, bakeries and petrol stations, as rumors spread that cooperative societies will be closed. Government Spokesperson Tareq Al-Mazrem categorically denied that cooperative societies will be closed, stressing that the societies and other essential services will remain open without restrictions.

Interior Minister Anas Al-Saleh also insisted that imports to the country will remain open. The ministry of commerce said that all branches of subsidized rations will remain open, while the health and commerce ministries stressed they have ample supplies.

MP Saleh Ashour said the health ministry is not capable of controlling a possible spread of the coronavirus among expatriates and called for sending thousands of “marginal” expat workers to their home countries until the problem is over. Earlier this week, Kuwait stopped issuing all types of visas for expats except for diplomats and in coordination with Kuwaiti embassies abroad.