KUWAIT: Travellers arrive at Kuwait international Airport on August 1, 2020. Commercial flights resumed at Kuwait International Airport after months of shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT: The total number of flights in the two days after commercial flights resumed at Kuwait International Airport dropped to 25 out of a projected 100 after aviation authorities expanded Kuwait’s flight ban list to include 31 countries. Only nine commercial flights arrived on August 3 and 11 a day before, while eight flights departed Kuwait on August 3 and 12 the day before, Al-Rai daily reported yesterday. “Flights are ongoing according to schedule excluding those to and from the 31 banned countries,” Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s official spokesman Saad Al-Otaibi is quoted in the report as saying.

The DGCA on Sunday released an updated countries’ ban list for inbound and outbound flights after commercial flights resumed on August 1 for the first time in months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The list includes the following states to and from which commercial flights have been suspended until further notice: Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Nepal, Northern Macedonia, Panama, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Serbia, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka and Syria.

Bad timing
“The government’s decision, which came in response to parliamentary threats and demands to ban flights from countries that remain under high COVID-19 risks, was met with public approval, but its timing raises many questions,” the report reads quoting informed sources who questioned the reason behind making such a decision on the day of flights’ resumption although the date was set over a month earlier. “The timing caused a great deal of confusion both in Kuwait and in concerned countries where passengers queued in airports, flights already in route were ordered back and airlines had to reschedule flights that had been set upon official Kuwaiti decisions,” the sources noted.

Furthermore, the sources criticized the government’s official spokesperson Tareq Al-Mezrem for his statement on the issue when he said that “most countries’ policies on passengers’ arrival or departure are variable and unpredictable,” arguing that it is illogical to wait until the very same day of flights’ resumption to make a decision to ban flights, especially since, according to them, the listed countries had not witnessed any dramatic health changes over the two days prior. The sources further noted that the latest fiasco was not the first the government had made a confusing decision since COVID-19 outbreak, and warned that the latest ban could have “many financial and legal consequences.”

Travel packages
Meanwhile, Al-Rai also reported that a number of local travel agents have started planning for the return of expatriates from countries included in the ban list, by offering special inclusive packages that cover the cost of their stay in a third-party country, PCR test fees, flight tickets and others.
DGCA had announced on Sunday that non-Kuwaiti passengers would be allowed to fly to Kuwait if they stayed in third countries for at least 14 days. After 14 days, they must conduct a PCR test for COVID-19 and provide an approval certificate proving a negative result and not being infected with the coronavirus. The validity of such certificate should not exceed 72 hours between the test date and arriving date to Kuwait.

In this regard, informed sources quoted in Al-Rai’s report said that the package would at least double the travel cost for passengers compared to returning directly from their own countries, adding that the average flight ticket cost would be around KD 320. The sources added that the companies are currently considering options for third-party countries where passengers from the banned countries can stop over before flying to Kuwait taking into consideration the cost of a ticket to a transit destination, visa fees, hotel costs for 14 days, PCR fees and the ticket’s price to Kuwait.

In related news, well-informed health sources told Al-Rai that MOH announcement of only 388 new COVID-19 cases on Monday reflects some positive indicators despite the drop in the number of coronavirus swab tests taken compared to previous periods. The sources explained that the drop in swab test numbers happened due to a notable decrease in the number of individuals checking into hospitals with suspected COVID-19 symptoms. “Such indicators show that the situation is generally improving, especially since people showing suspected infection symptoms do not hesitate to visit health facilities for tests and receive proper treatment,” the sources pointed out.

Expats’ replacement
In other news, a local report published yesterday suggested that the majority of state departments have recently started replacing expatriate manpower with Kuwaiti citizens, namely those doing non-technical jobs, as several departments started taking serious and decisive related measures. In this regard, Al-Rai reported quoting informed sources that within those serious measures, some expats who have already signed their second contracts since they’ve been hired started receiving termination notices and stressed that the process would be done gradually to avoid negative impact on work.

“Over 50 percent of expats in their second terms will be terminated within the coming three months,” the sources predicted, noting that expats who had been working for companies executing government contracts and then transferred their residencies to work for various ministries would be terminated.

Meanwhile, chairman of the parliamentary human resources development committee MP Khalil Al-Saleh stressed that the committee has taken effective measures on replacement and solving the demographic imbalances. “All parliamentary proposals to handle both issues have been prepared and the government was urged to submit its own related projects being the body that possesses all the needed data and statistics,” Saleh explained, adding that a meeting would be held next week to prepare a report to be submitted to the parliament, regardless of whether the government submitted its own proposal or not. Further, Saleh urged relevant government bodies to accelerate the process of terminating non-technical expat government employees and replace expats with citizens wherever applicable.

Surgical intervention
Separately, Al-Qabas revealed yesterday that a National Assembly panel and the Ministry of Justice have jointly rejected a proposal to allow medical staff to obtain approval from a man’s wife for medical or surgical intervention. Currently, women are not allowed to sign documents to allow for medical or surgical intervention for their children or husbands, but five lawmakers submitted a draft law in January this year to grant women this right.

However, Al-Qabas reported yesterday that the parliament’s legislative committee is so far refusing to amend the existing law, while the Justice Ministry only approves allowing mothers to sign documents for medical or surgical intervention for their children, while denying wives the right to do the same for their husbands. The report indicates that the parliamentary committee is finalizing its report with a recommendation to grant this right to mothers only “in a step that revives debate on women’s rights in Kuwait.”