Saudi Arabia imposes curfew to curb coronavirus, UAE halts passenger flights

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will impose a nationwide curfew starting on Monday after reporting a jump of almost a quarter in coronavirus cases, while the United Arab Emirates will suspend all passenger flights as of Wednesday, state media reported.

Saudi King Salman ordered a curfew from 7pm to 6am for 21 days to slow the spread of the virus, state media said. Anyone breaking the curfew will be fined 10,000 riyals ($2,665) and repeat offenders could be sent to jail for up to 20 days, state TV said.

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Talal Mashhoud told a news conference, during which 51 new infections were announced, that security forces would enforce the curfew and that if needed “military authorities may be called upon”.

The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council has recorded more than 1,800 infections and four deaths from the virus. Saudi Arabia has the most confirmed cases with 562.

The UAE, a major air transit center, said it will halt all passenger and transit flights to and from the country for two weeks, state news agency WAM said. Cargo operations continue.

The country reported 45 new cases among Western, Arab and Asian nationalities, taking its total to 198.

State-owned Emirates, one of the world’s biggest long-haul airlines, earlier said it would stop passenger operations this week, except for repatriation flights to several countries.

The UAE will close malls starting on Wednesday, leaving open pharmacies, supermarkets and wholesale produce providers, WAM reported, adding that delivery services are exempt. Dubai said it would shut food establishments from Monday.

The UAE urged people to stay home but has yet to announce a suspension of work in the public and private sectors. The central bank, other ministries and government departments said they are asking staff to work remotely.

The region has expanded measures to combat the spread of the disease. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were the first to take drastic steps including halting international flights, suspending work at most institutions and closing public venues.

Saudi Commerce Ministry spokesman Abdulrahman al-Hussein told the news conference that pharmacies, supermarkets and restaurants would offer delivery services during the curfew.

Kuwait said on Monday it would issue expatriate teachers exit permits. State news agency KUNA later said EgyptAir would operate a daily flight to Cairo for a week starting on Wednesday for Egyptian residents who wish to leave.

Qatar’s health ministry called for volunteers to staff medical facilities to “ease the strain on resources” in the tiny country which has 494 cases, mostly among migrant workers.

In the UAE, where expatriates also make up most of the population, Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan suspended rent evictions for two months, state media said.

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