Gulf Arab states extend coronavirus precautions to bourses, shipping, public parks

Reuters , Sunday 15 Mar 2020

A foreign worker in Saudi Arabia wearing a protective mask , precaution against COVID-19 coronavirus disease, pushes a cart while exiting a supermarket in the centre of the Saudi capital Riyadh on March 15, 2020. (Photo: APF)

Gulf Arab states expanded measures against the new coronavirus on Sunday with the United Arab Emirates shuttering several public venues including parks and the Abu Dhabi bourse trading hall, as infections continued to spread in the region.

Oman's health ministry reported two more cases on Sunday, including an Omani woman who had been in Italy. The sultanate, which lies across the Gulf from Iran, banned ship-to-ship trade by open-deck boats with Iranian vessels, state media said.

The new cases took the total number of infections in the six Gulf Arab states to 872, with no deaths reported so far.

Many are linked to travel with Iran, which emerged as an epicentre for the disease in the Middle East. Tehran on Sunday raised its toll to 724 dead and more than 13,900 infected.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday the government had no plans to quarantine Iranian cities because of the coronavirus outbreak, state TV reported.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, foes of Iran which restrict travel there, have criticised Tehran for allowing their citizens to enter without stamping their passports, a move Manama described as "biological aggression".

However, the outbreak has also seen rivalries put aside.

In a rare phone call, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif the UAE was ready to help, stressing the need for global efforts to contain the disease, state media said on Sunday.

Iranian media said Zarif thanked the UAE, which has facilitated medical supply shipments.

Supermarket Scramble

In regional tourism and business hub Dubai, there was a rush on supermarkets with many shoppers wearing masks and gloves, as the emirate joined the UAE capital Abu Dhabi in closing cinemas, arcades, spas, gyms and parks.

The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange said on Sunday it was closing all its trading halls until further notice, a day after Kuwait's bourse said it would do the same.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have taken the most drastic steps among Gulf Arab states by halting international passenger flights.

The UAE and Qatar have restricted entry visas. Emirates airline suspended more flights.

An American living in the Saudi capital Riyadh said his parents -- in their 60s and 70s -- cut short their visit and departed on Saturday before the kingdom's two-week international flight suspension went into effect at 0800 GMT Sunday.

"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 said.

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. Some compounds restricted residents' movements and guest access.

Asked about those two cases, Saudi health ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali said all cases are announced as they are identified. Saudi Arabia has 103 cases of the virus.

Citizens and residents in Kuwait, which went into virtual lockdown on Thursday, had their temperatures tested before entering banks, where long queues formed on Sunday after the state limited the number of operational branches.

Kuwait, where the flights ban 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.

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