Curfew in Saudi; UAE shuts malls; Weinstein infected

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Kuwait - Yasmine El Tohamy - : A picture shows the closed Dubai Mall yesterday. – AFP

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has announced a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew from yesterday in a bid to limit the spread of the new coronavirus, the latest in a series of restrictions. The curfew – from 7 pm until 6 am – will be imposed for 21 days, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, citing a royal order. The move comes after Saudi Arabia on Sunday said the number of COVID-19 cases had jumped to 511, the highest in the Gulf. The kingdom has reported no deaths so far.

Health sector employees as well as security and military officials will be exempt from the curfew restrictions, the royal order said. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman warned on Thursday of a “more difficult” fight ahead against the virus, as the kingdom faces the double blow of virus-led shutdowns and crashing oil prices. The Arab world’s biggest economy has shut down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights and suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage as it steps up efforts to contain the deadly virus.

Last week, the kingdom unveiled stimulus measures amounting to 120 Saudi billion riyals ($32 billion) to support businesses and said it plans to raise borrowing to 50 percent of GDP. Saudi Arabia has also suspended prayers inside all its mosques except the holiest two sites in Islam in Makkah and Madinah, a sensitive move in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

The world’s top crude exporter faces plunging oil prices, the mainstay of government revenue, which have slipped to around $25 a barrel to touch multi-year lows on the back of sagging demand due to the virus and a price war with Russia. More than 1,300 coronavirus infections have been detected in the Gulf region, with most cases initially identified among travellers returning from Iran which is one of the world’s worst affected countries.

Dubai’s famous malls will shut down for a fortnight under the United Arab Emirates’ plan to curb coronavirus, which will also see its airports closed to passenger and transit flights. The decision to close commercial centers takes in shopping centers as well as fresh food markets, but pharmacies and food retail outlets will be allowed to stay open. Restaurants are limited to home deliveries.

The health ministry and the disaster management authority said in a statement early yesterday that the move would come into force within 48 hours and last “for a renewable period of two weeks”. Dubai’s vast shopping centers include Mall of the Emirates, which has its own indoor ski slope, and Dubai Mall which is one of the world’s largest and features a giant aquarium.

The move came as UAE authorities announced they would suspend all passenger and transit flights for two weeks, as the coronavirus outbreak prompts many countries to shut their borders. Cargo and emergency evacuation flights are exempt from the measure. “Additional examination and isolation arrangements will be taken later should flights resume in order to ensure the safety of passengers, air crews, and airport personnel and their protection from infection risks,” they said in a statement.

The UAE is home to two major international airports, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are major transit hubs. Yesterday’s announcement came hours after Dubai carrier Emirates said it would suspend all passenger flights by March 25, only to swiftly reverse its decision. It later said it “received requests from governments and customers to support the repatriation of travellers” and would continue to operate passenger flights to 13 destinations.

However, after the new UAE suspension the airline confirmed it would suspend all passenger services for two weeks starting from March 25. “We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused to our customers and travellers. These measures are in place to contain the spread of COVID-19, and we hope to resume services as soon as feasible,” it said. The UAE announced on Friday its first two deaths from the COVID-19 disease, having reported more than 150 cases so far.

Gulf countries have imposed various restrictions to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the air transport sector. The UAE has already stopped granting visas on arrival and forbidden foreigners who are legal residents but are outside the country from returning.

Meanwhile, disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, US media reported Sunday. Weinstein, 68, is in prison in northern New York state after being sentenced to 23 years in jail for rape and sexual assault. The fallen film producer’s diagnosis was reported Sunday evening by celebrity news website TMZ and local paper the Niagara Gazette. Weinstein’s spokespeople have declined to comment to US media on the subject.

The New York State Department of Corrections did not respond when contacted by AFP for confirmation of the reports. Sources told TMZ that Weinstein was one of two inmates to test positive at the high-security Wende Correctional Facility northwest of New York City and that he has had no contact with family or his lawyers since his diagnosis. Prior to his transfer, he stayed at Rikers Island prison and a Manhattan hospital, where he was treated for chest pains.

Crowded US prisons have the potential to become hotbeds for coronavirus infections. Last week, guards at Rikers and New York’s Sing Sing prison tested positive for the virus, local media reported. As of Sunday, the virus has killed 417 people in the US out of more than 33,000 cases, according to a tracker managed by Johns Hopkins University.

Weinstein was convicted in February of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree, while being cleared of predatory sexual assault charges. He was convicted of raping ex-actress Jessica Mann in 2013 and of forcibly performing oral sex on former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006. Nearly 90 women, including Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek, have leveled sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein, the Oscar-winning producer of “Shakespeare in Love” and numerous other critical and box office hits. – Agencies

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