UAE grounds flights to curb Covid-19

23 March 2020
King Salman orders curfew in Saudi Arabia as number of regional cases grows

The clampdown on outdoor movement continues in the Middle East as regional governments step up measures to encourage social distancing and curb the spread of the Covid-19 illness.

The UAE government has called on the public to stay at home unless it is “absolutely necessary” to exit the house, such as to purchase essential supplies like food and medicine, or to perform essential jobs.

The UAE’s Ministry of Interior and the National Emergency and Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NECDMA) said in a statement: “The public are also urged to use their own family cars with a maximum of three individuals per vehicle. 

“They are also advised not to visit public places and maintain social distancing protocols during family gatherings as part of the precautionary measures taken to ensure public health and safety.”

Instructions for the use of public transport, taxis and other means of transportation are expected to be announced shortly. 

Violators may be fined or jailed under the UAE’s law on communicable diseases, state news agency Wam reported.

NECDMA and the Civil Aviation Authority have also suspended all inbound and outbound passenger flights and the transit of airline passengers in the UAE for two weeks.

The decision, which is subject to re-assessment, will take effect in 48 hours, Wam announced on 22 March.

CAA said cargo and emergency evacuation flights would be exempted.

Dubai flag carrier Emirates said on 22 March it would suspend most of its passenger flights in light of reduced travel demand due to Covid-19. The airline’s initial plan was to suspend all its passenger flights, but its decision was revised following “requests from governments and customers to support the repatriation of travellers”.

Commercial centres, shopping malls and fresh produce markets will also be closed in the UAE for a renewable period of two weeks.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention and NECDMA said on 22 March that the decision would after 48 hours, and would be subject to review and re-assessment.

Pharmacies and food retail outlets, including cooperative societies, grocery stores and supermarkets, as well as wholesale produce markets, are exempted from the decision. 

Restaurants may no longer receive customers, however, and their services will be limited to home deliveries.

On 22 March, the UAE cabinet also approved an AED16bn ($4.4bn) economic stimulus package on 22 March that includes measures to accelerate major infrastructure projects and ensure business continuity in the country.

As of 21 March, the UAE had 153 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 38 patients that had made recoveries. 

Saudi curfew

Daily life will also be limited in Saudi Arabia after King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud issued orders to enforce a curfew in the kingdom. 

The curfew will be implemented from 7pm to 6am for 21 days, starting 23 March. 

The Ministry of Interior will work with civil and military authorities to ensure compliance. Employees from vital public and private sector organisations are exempted.

This includes professionals in security, military and media services, and workers in the sensitive health and service sectors.

State-held Saudi Press Agency said the following exceptions had been confirmed by the interior ministry:

  • Points of food sale, such as catering, supermarkets, vegetable, poultry, and meat shops, bakeries, and food factories.
  • Pharmacies and relevant sectors like medical clinics, hospitals, laboratories, factories of medical devices and materials.
  • Media and telecommunications entities.
  • Companies transporting goods, parcels, customs clearance, warehouses, logistics services, as well as supply chains for the health and food sectors and port operations.
  • E-commerce activities, such as electronic purchases and deliveries.
  • Accommodation services, including hotels and furnished apartments.
  • The energy sector, such as fuel stations and emergency services of the Saudi Electricity Company.
  • The financial services and insurance sector covering services like managing accidents, urgent health insurance services and approvals and other insurance services.
  • The water sector, such as the water company emergency services and home drinking water delivery service. 
  • Workers in diplomatic missions and international organisations, as well as residents of diplomatic quarters, will be allowed to move during the time of curfew from and to their workplaces.

Among Saudi Arabia’s latest measures to manage the impact of Covid-19 is the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority’s announcement that local banks would postpone three months’ worth of instalments for all public and private health personnel that have credit facilities starting in April without changing their costs.

Saudi Arabia has 511 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 17 patients having recovered in the kingdom. 

Around the Gulf

Bahrain announced its second death due to Covid-19 on 22 March. The kingdom has confirmed 334 cases of the illness, of which 149 patients have been discharged and two have died. 

The kingdom’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, and Tourism, Zayed R al-Zayani, said on 22 March that retail stores would be closed from 26 March to 9 April in Bahrain.

Delivery services are exempted, and hypermarkets, supermarkets, cold stores, bakeries, pharmacies, and banks will remain open. Restaurants may provide take-away or delivery services. 

In Kuwait, where 188 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed with 30 recoveries, the National Assembly is set to discuss a set of emergency draft laws aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Parliamentarians will discuss a bill and two proposals to amend a law regarding preventive measures over communicable diseases. 

National Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim said the session would exclusively discuss draft emergency legislations to scale up the combat against the novel coronavirus.

A medical team is assessing the health of the legislators ahead of tomorrow’s session, and al-Ghanim said the health ministry’s feedback for social gatherings would be followed during the meeting. 

Oman has ordered limited staffing at state entities and shut currency exchange bureaus as part of measures to fight the coronavirus spread. Private sector companies have been ordered to facilitate remote working, and commercial businesses and individuals have been asked to limit cash transactions. The circulation of print media has also been halted by Oman’s Supreme Committee for Dealing with Covid-19. 

Oman has 55 positive cases of Covid-19.

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