By B Izzak and Agencies

KUWAIT: The ministry of health reported 77 new coronavirus cases yesterday, 74 of whom are expatriates, raising the number of cases to 556 and one death. The ministry also reported six new recoveries, raising the total number to 99. The new cases include three Kuwaitis, 58 Indians, eight Pakistanis, three Bangladeshis, two Egyptians and one Iranian. Of the 456 cases receiving treatment at the ministry, 17 are in intensive care units, six in critical condition.

A Cabinet meeting headed by Interior Minister Anas Al-Saleh discussed late Saturday the issue of placing a number of densely-populated expat areas under total lockdown following a rise in the number of coronavirus cases among expats. No decision was announced after the meeting, which also discussed expanding the partial curfew hours and other measures. It also discussed the second phase of repatriation of Kuwaitis from abroad, which is expected to commence this week.

MP Mohammad Al-Dallal said that the spread of the disease among expatriates rings warning bells, which requires taking decisive actions like imposing a lockdown, especially in areas heavily populated by expatriates. He also called for speeding up the process of sending home thousands of expatriate workers living illegally in the country or those who are stranded here with no jobs.

The government has repeatedly said that the options of imposing a total curfew or placing certain expat-dominated areas under lockdown are being considered by the Cabinet and could be imposed when necessary. A large number of expatriates have tested positive for the deadly disease in the past few days. On Saturday, the ministry of health reported its first coronavirus death of an Indian who had been in the intensive care unit. The virus has spread especially among Indians, with some 170 of them among the 479 cases announced by Kuwait.

A number of opposition MPs meanwhile said they will reject a government-sponsored draft law allowing the government to borrow KD 20 billion over the next 10 years, partly to plug the budget deficit expected to increase as oil prices crash. MP Abdulkarim Al-Kandari called on lawmakers to stand against the debt law and reject it, saying the government which failed to manage national wealth at times of prosperity will not be able to manage the huge loan in times of crisis. MP Thamer Al-Suwait said he and his colleagues will not allow the passage of the debt law, which aims to fulfill the desires of some influential sectors.

Meanwhile, 11 opposition lawmakers issued a statement in which they said they will not support the stimulus package announced by the government last week because it lacks clarity and transparency. They said that they have strongly supported the government during the ongoing crisis, but this does not mean that its decisions are immune to questioning. They vowed that once the ordeal is over, they will raise some issues.

Dubai imposed a two-week lockdown Saturday night and Saudi Arabia sealed off parts of the Red Sea city of Jeddah as Gulf states tightened measures in big cities to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Dubai had been under an overnight curfew along with the rest of United Arab Emirates since March 26. Its Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management said the lockdown would now run around the clock for two weeks, state news agency WAM said.

In neighboring Saudi Arabia, authorities announced a lockdown and a partial curfew in seven neighborhoods of Jeddah also starting on Saturday as part of measures to contain the outbreak, the interior ministry said in a statement. Saudi Arabia is worst hit in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) group of Arab oil monarchies. It had reported 2,179 cases of confirmed infections up until Saturday and 29 deaths.

In Dubai, mobility will be restricted and legal action taken against violators though supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as food and drug delivery services would continue normal operations, WAM said. People can only leave their homes for essential purposes and just one family member is permitted to go out at any one time. People working in vital sectors, or those exempted from restrictions, will not be affected.

Dubai’s metro and tram service will be suspended for two weeks and free bus transportation and a 50% discount on taxi rides will be offered during the lockdown. The emirate, which had previously sealed of the Al Ras area where there is a large migrant population, will conduct extensive medical tests across densely populated areas.

The UAE, where infected cases have jumped by 840 since April, also extended its de facto overnight curfew indefinitely to disinfect public areas by spraying streets, parks and public transport facilities. Abu Dhabi’s government on Saturday extended closure of malls, cinemas, entertainment facilities and gyms until further notice, WAM reported. The UAE recommends that people wear masks when leaving home, a health ministry spokeswoman told a news conference on TV.

In Saudi Arabia, said residents in seven Jeddah neighborhoods could only go out for grocery shopping and medical care between 6 am (0300 GMT) and 3 pm and movement in and out of the areas will be restricted. Similar measures have been announced in the past few days in other Saudi cities, including the Gulf port of Dammam, the main entry point for supply to the kingdom’s oil industry.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump warned Americans to brace for a “very horrendous” number of coronavirus deaths in the coming days, ahead of a rare speech by Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday aimed at rallying hard-hit Britain. Global deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic have soared past 60,000, with Europe continuing to bear the brunt of the virus which has left roughly half the planet confined at home.

There are now more than 1.2 million confirmed cases across the globe, and around 65,000 people have died since the virus first emerged in China late last year, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Trump said the United States was entering “a time that’s going to be very horrendous” with “some really bad numbers”. “This will probably be the toughest week,” he said at the White House. “There will be a lot of death.”

Over 45,000 global deaths have been in Europe, with Britain reporting a new daily high in fatalities, taking the overall toll to 4,300 out of nearly 42,000 cases. Queen Elizabeth II was to make a rare, “deeply personal” speech yesterday to urge people to rise to the challenge posed by the coronavirus, and personally thank frontline healthcare workers.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis was expected to livestream his Palm Sunday Mass. St Peter’s Square is usually packed by Catholic faithful for the occasion, but this year, it will be empty because of coronavirus containment measures. There was, however, some encouraging news from Europe over the weekend. Worst-hit Italy cheered after seeing its number of intensive care virus cases drop for the first time – from 4,068 on Friday to 3,994 on Saturday.

Even some of the most cautious Italian health officials seized on the figures as evidence that the tide may be turning in the deadliest disaster the country has faced since World War II. The daily rise in new infections across Italy has also slowed. It reported 681 new deaths on Saturday, down from a peak of almost 1,000 just over a week ago.

Spain, which is under a near-total lockdown, saw a second successive daily fall in coronavirus-related deaths with 809 fatalities. The total number of deaths in Spain now stands at 11,947, second only to Italy. Although the number of new cases also slowed, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced an extension of the country’s lockdown until April 25.

New York state, the US epicenter, saw a record 630 deaths in a single day and Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the worst was yet to come. The state has recorded a total of 3,565 deaths. Cuomo also cautioned that already strained hospitals were not prepared. New York City appealed for licensed medical personnel to volunteer their services. Trump said 1,000 military personnel, mostly doctors and nurses, would be deployed to help in the city, which he described as “the hottest of all the hot spots”.

Several Western countries including the US, Germany and France have in recent days encouraged the use of masks in public despite earlier saying that only carers needed to cover their faces. The U-turn has angered and confused some citizens, and spurred a flurry of online tutorials for DIY masks. The advice came after some studies suggested the new coronavirus can be spread through speaking and breathing, not just coughing and sneezing.

US authorities said wearing a simple homemade mask or scarf could help stem rocketing infection rates. The World Health Organization is reviewing its guidance but has said it worries that masks could give “a false sense of security”, leading people to be more casual about hand washing and social distancing.