KUWAIT: Health Minister Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah and Interior Minister Anas Al-Saleh are seen during a tour of the Khairan Resort quarantine center yesterday. – KUNA

By B Izzak, A Saleh and Faten Omar

KUWAIT: The civil aviation authority in Kuwait has asked passengers returning to Kuwait from 10 populous nations to produce health certificates showing they are free of the deadly coronavirus, otherwise they will be denied entry. The action will be implemented from March 8. In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said passengers arriving from India, Egypt, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Syria and Lebanon, in addition to Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia must undergo tests for the coronavirus and produce certificates showing negative results before boarding planes to Kuwait.

The first seven countries, especially India and Egypt, have an estimated 2.5 million people, or almost three quarters of all expatriates, living and working in Kuwait. Authorities have already banned the entry of expats who recently visited several countries infected with the coronavirus, including Iran, Iraq, China, South Korea and others.

The civil aviation circular said passengers from the 10 abovementioned countries must carry out COVID-19 tests at medical centers approved by Kuwaiti embassies in those countries, which must be attested. In countries where there are no Kuwaiti missions, the tests must be attested by the health authorities in that country. The statement said passengers who do not produce the certificate will be barred from entering Kuwait and will be sent back on the same carrier, which will be fined. It said that Kuwaiti citizens arriving from these countries will undergo the necessary tests at Kuwait airport.

Kuwait has in the previous few days banned the entry of nationals from infected countries, stopped issuing visit visas to citizens of a dozen countries and introduced restrictions on visit visas for some nationalities. The ministry of health yesterday said no new coronavirus cases have been found, with the number of cases staying at 56. The ministry said it carried out tests on some 3,100 people, the overwhelming majority of whom have returned from Iran.

Kuwait yesterday postponed the GCC Games, a regional multi-sport tournament, from April to December. It also closed its zoo and the health ministry instructed cafes to stop serving the shisha water pipe, state news agency KUNA reported yesterday. The health ministry also called for using facemasks, gloves and sanitizers at barbershops, salons, spas and social and sports clubs.

Health Minister Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah said yesterday the ministry is preparing a fourth quarantine for people returning from infected areas, who are required to remain in isolation for 14 days to make sure they are healthy. The education ministry yesterday discussed preparations to resume schools which have been suspended for two weeks from March 1. The ministry said all school activities will be cancelled and students and teaching staff will undergo thermal screening.

National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem said yesterday the Assembly has not yet decided whether to hold the March 10 regular session and that a decision will be taken before Saturday. MPs Mohammad Al-Dallal, Osama Al-Shaheen and Abdullah Fahhad submitted a proposal calling to establish a research center to combat diseases and epidemics to develop vaccines and drugs. MP Majed Al-Mutairi called on the government to extend the school holidays to prevent any possible breakout of the coronavirus.

The world has entered uncharted territory in its battle against the deadly coronavirus, the UN health agency warned, as new infections dropped dramatically in China yesterday but surged abroad with the US death toll rising to six. Globally, the virus has killed more than 3,100 people and infected over 90,000 even as a clear shift in the crisis emerges, with nine times as many new cases recorded outside China as inside, according to the World Health Organization.

China has imposed draconian quarantines and travel restrictions to keep large swathes of the population indoors – a strategy that appears to have paid off as new cases have been generally falling for days. While Italy has locked down towns, other countries have stopped short of imposing mass quarantines and instead have discouraged large gatherings, delayed sporting events and banned arrivals from virus-hit nations. Twitter told staff across the world to work from home.

South Korea, Iran and Italy have emerged as major COVID-19 hotspots, which emerged from a market that sold wild animals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. South Korea, the biggest cluster outside China, reported 851 new cases, its biggest daily increase, sending its total past 5,000 while its death toll rose to 28. “The entire country has entered a war with the infectious disease,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said.

By contrast, China reported 125 new cases yesterday – its lowest daily increase in six weeks – with all but 11 infections in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. The nationwide death toll rose to 2,943 with 31 more deaths, with some 80,000 total cases. China has even confirmed 13 imported infections, including eight Chinese nationals who worked at the same restaurant in northern Italy’s Lombardy region.

Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong province are imposing 14-day quarantines on people arriving from countries with a severe epidemic. “We are in uncharted territory,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. “We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures.” Community transmission means infections within a population are not imported from another virus-hit area.

The US is now facing a potential epidemic, with six people dying in the northwestern state of Washington, where officials warned residents the battle against the disease was shifting from containment to mitigation. Five of the deaths were in King County, which has more than two million residents and is home to Seattle, a major commercial and transportation hub. The White House, which has been accused of downplaying the threat from the virus, struck a bullish tone.

Vice President Mike Pence declared that a treatment “could literally be available by this summer, or early fall”. He was likely referring to remdesivir, an antiviral drug developed by the pharmaceutical firm Gilead that has already been used to treat one US patient and was moving toward two expansive final stage trials in Asia. Pence also announced American pharmaceuticals were forming a consortium to fight the virus, and that South Korea and Italy would screen all their airline passengers bound for the US.

Despite its world-class hospitals and cutting-edge research, the US is viewed as vulnerable to an epidemic because of glaring disparities in healthcare availability, with nearly 28 million people without coverage. Chinese officials have touted progress in their own battle against the epidemic, and in another sign of growing confidence, 19 provinces resumed inter-provincial bus services on Sunday, state media said.