GCC countries introduce additional coronavirus measures

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Officials suspended the umrah in Mecca and visits to the Al Masjid an Nabawi Mosque in the holy city of Medina.

Muslim worshippers wear masks after the noon prayers outside the Grand Mosque, in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, March 7. (AP)

LONDON - Countries across the Middle East reported new cases of coronavirus infection as regional health officials introduced additional measures to contain spread of the virus that has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide.

In the Gulf Cooperation Council region, additional travel bans were introduced, sporting events and music concerts rescheduled and screening measures and public awareness campaigns increased.

In Saudi Arabia, which has reported five individuals infected with the COVID-19 virus, officials suspended the umrah in Mecca and visits to the Al Masjid an Nabawi Mosque in the holy city of Medina.

An Interior Ministry source said the decision was among many precautionary measures taken by Saudi officials to providing “maximum protection and safety” for citizens and residents. The two holy sites reopened March 6 but a ban on international pilgrims and tourists from 25 countries remained in place.

Among the events in Saudi Arabia affected by the virus outbreak was the Red Sea International Film Festival, which was to begin March 12 in Jeddah. “The spread of coronavirus is a battle we all must face around the globe,” organisers said in a statement on the event’s website announcing the postponement.

The United Arab Emirates, which reported 27 coronavirus cases, is taking additional measures to contain the spread of the infection, including closing schools and higher education institutions for four weeks beginning March 8.

After a 16-year-old student, who had travelled overseas, tested positive for the virus, UAE authorities issued an advisory statement asking citizens to avoid travel. He warned those who do travel could face preventive measures such as self-isolation.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan met with Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates regarding the coronavirus, based on the record of previous global initiatives between the United Arab Emirates and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“My good friend @BillGates and I discussed over a call the importance of enhancing cooperation between multilateral institutions and private entities in the global fight against all diseases and COVID-19 in particular,” Sheikh Mohammed said on Twitter. “We have been and will remain strong partners in this effort.”

The electronic dance music festival Ultra was cancelled in the United Arab Emirates, while AI Everything, an exhibition focusing on Artificial intelligence technology, was postponed.

Kuwait announced two new cases, both coming from Iran, raising the number of infections to 58, the highest in the Gulf region. The country’s civil aviation authority issued a list of ten countries whose nationals must produce certificates issued by the Kuwaiti Embassy in their own countries indicating they are coronavirus-free to be granted entry, although officials later reversed that decision.

Kuwaiti officials decided to delay the Gulf Cooperation Council Games, a multi-sport event scheduled for April 3-11 but was moved to December 2020.

The Qatari Health Ministry said eight individuals had been infected with the coronavirus. The Qatari government announced the cancellation of the Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference [DIMDEX].

“Our main priority is to maintain public health in the state of Qatar; therefore, it was decided not to have the event,” DIMDEX said on its Twitter account.

Qatari authorities also banned all arrivals from Egypt, excluding Qataris.

The ban irked Egyptian officials, whose country is part of a quartet of Arab nations that severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017. In reaction, Egypt banned the entry of Qatari nationals into the country over the coronavirus, citing the “norm of reciprocity.”

The sale of tickets for Formula One’s Bahrain Grand Prix was put on hold but the event, scheduled for March 22, is yet to be cancelled. Bahrain also announced there were 54 coronavirus cases in the country.

In Oman, health officials on March 5 said there were 16 coronavirus cases, with one infected citizen having recently returned from Italy. The other 15 people infected had recently travelled to Iran.

Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.

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