KUWAIT: Expatriate workers returning from Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon arrive at a health ministry containment and screening zone for COVID-19 at the Mishref fairgrounds yesterday. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: National Assembly speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem yesterday quoted the defense minister as telling MPs that there are no immediate plans to impose a curfew now, but nothing is ruled out. “MPs asked the defense minister if there is an intention to impose a curfew and he said that all precautionary measures are not ruled out, but no decision has been taken now to impose a curfew,” Ghanem told reporters after a meeting with the defense minister at the Assembly.

The minister added that as long as people cooperate with the measures announced by the government, the chances of imposing a curfew will be lower, Ghanem said. The speaker said lawmakers asked the minister that any measure should be taken gradually and not suddenly. He said the defense minister reiterated that “now and in the short term, there are no plans to impose curfew, but in the mid- and long-term, it is not ruled out and it depends on the extent of cooperation by the people”. Ghanem appealed to the public to abide by the government measures so that there will be no need for additional measures.

Health Ministry Spokesman Abdullah Al-Sanad meanwhile told a press conference yesterday that imposing curfew remains one of the options. The talk about curfew comes after the Cabinet decided to close all shopping malls, beauty salons and barbershops as part of its measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The government also allowed restaurants to host a maximum of five people at a time and in case there are queues, there must be a distance of least one meter between people.

These measures come after the government halted all flights and shut down the public and private sectors in the most stringent restrictions taken in the entire Middle East. The health ministry also announced eight new coronavirus cases, all of Kuwaiti citizens. Three had returned from Britain, one from Iran, one from France via UAE and three others came in contact with the three people who returned from Britain.

This brings the number of infections to 112, but the ministry said two more cases were cured yesterday, bringing the number of cured cases to nine. The ministry said as many as 324 people have been allowed to leave quarantine. Of the 103 infections, four are being treated at the intensive care unit.

Citizens and residents had their temperatures tested before entering banks, where long queues formed yesterday after the state limited the number of operational branches. Masks and gloves were distributed to those in line. Kuwait, where the ban on international flights began on March 13, has offered its citizens stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport paid accommodation at an airport hotel with three meals a day, according to an embassy notification seen by Reuters.

The Assembly speaker said that MPs have asked the defense minister to repatriate Kuwaitis from abroad and to provide them with all the facilities while they are in other countries. The government is preparing more quarantines in order to repatriate some 8,500 citizens currently living abroad, MP Saleh Ashour said.

The health ministry yesterday completed coronavirus testing for Egyptians, Lebanese and Syrians living in Farwaniya governorate who had returned from March 1 onwards. The ministry starts today testing the same nationalities residing in Hawally governorate. Sanad said the screenings of thousands of expatriates at the fairgrounds in Mishref have all been negative so far after four days of extensive tests.

Gulf shares dropped yesterday amid unprecedented shutdowns to ward off the spread of coronavirus, despite tens of billions of dollars in stimulus packages announced by oil-rich governments. Boursa Kuwait was the biggest loser with the Premier Index sliding 6.5 percent and the All-Shares Index shedding 5.5 percent as the country announced stringent virus containment measures.

The Saudi Tadawul market, the region’s largest, dropped 1.1 percent despite the kingdom announcing a $13.3 billion stimulus package to help the national economy cope with the effects of the virus and a low oil price. The market was also impacted by a 20.6 percent dive in 2019 net profit of energy giant Saudi Aramco whose shares ended down 1.0 percent. UAE’s bourses in Dubai and Abu Dhabi ignored a $27.2 billion stimulus package announced by the central bank, mainly directed at banks which were asked to delay debt payments of customers for up to six months.

Dubai shares dipped 3.4 percent, sliding below the 2,000-point mark for the first time since 2013, and the Abu Dhabi stock market ended the day down 1.9 percent. Bahrain Boursa was down 1.5 percent while the markets of Qatar and Oman bucked the trend, rising 1.0 percent and 0.4 percent respectively. Last week, the seven bourses slumped to multi-year lows as the coronavirus hit the oil market hard and oil producers waged a price war that sent prices crashing.

Gulf Arab states expanded measures to contain the spread of coronavirus yesterday with Oman banning open ship-to-ship transfers with Iranian vessels, Abu Dhabi’s bourse closing trading halls and Dubai shuttering cinemas, gyms and arcades. An American living in the Saudi capital Riyadh said his parents – in their 60s and 70s – cut short their visit and departed the kingdom on Saturday night before the flight suspension went into effect at 0800 GMT yesterday. “I’m glad that they’re off even though it means 24 hours in the airport hotel in Dubai. Given their age and medical issues it’s definitely better than stuck here for weeks,” he told Reuters.

Saudi Arabia, which has locked down its eastern Qatif region where many infections were recorded, has 103 cases of the virus. Two gated compounds in the capital Riyadh housing hundreds of expatriates have each reported one case among residents, according to emails from management seen by Reuters. The Saudi health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment and it was not clear if the two cases were already included in the kingdom’s total count.

Many of the coronavirus cases recorded in Gulf Arab states have been linked to travel to Iran, which has emerged as an epicenter for the disease in the Middle East. Oman, across the Gulf from Iran, asked open-deck boats to immediately halt ship-to-ship trade with Iranian boats, state news agency ONA said yesterday.

In the UAE, regional tourism and business hub Dubai joined other emirates in shuttering cinemas, arcades and gyms. Dubai’s large Global Village shopping and entertainment market, which runs from November to March each year, said it was closing early. The UAE capital Abu Dhabi shut down public beaches and parks. The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange said yesterday it was closing all its trading halls until further notice, a day after Kuwait’s bourse said it would do the same.