Thursday, February 25, 2021

Saudi Arabia, Gulf neighbours launch new restrictions as virus surges after New Year fun

Despite having some of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world, health professionals are warning that the surge may be an early indicator of a second wave.

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New restrictions were initiated across Gulf Arab states on Thursday as Covid-19 resurges around the region following the relaxation of rules over New Year.

State-run Saudi Press Agency blamed the new restrictions on prior “lax implementation of the preventive and precautionary measures and approved protocols”.

With large populations of transient young and healthy foreign labourers, most Gulf countries have largely avoided the higher death tolls seen elsewhere around the world, the AP reports.

Also, Gulf countries have some of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world.

Nevertheless, reported case numbers are rising since the New Year, sparking great concern.

In Saudi Arabia, authorities have since Wednesday banned travel from 20 countries, including Indonesia, Pakistan, India, and its own neighbour the United Arab Emirates.

The ban on American and European flights will negatively affect the ability of the kingdom to operate its oilfields as most production engineers and petrochemical experts come from those areas.

Saudi officials also ordered all weddings and parties suspended, and closed down all shopping malls, gyms and indoor dining venues for 10 days while warning that the new measures could be extended.

In Kuwait, authorities have ordered a two-week ban on foreigners arriving from Sunday, and most businesses must close at 8pm for the next month. Celebrations for its upcoming Feb 25 National Day are banned.

“Non-compliance and recklessness could take the country back to square one in its fight against the pandemic,” Health Minister Dr Basel Al Sabah said, according to the state-run Kuna news agency.

Qatar announced new restrictions on Wednesday. In Doha, the state-run Qatar News Agency quoted Covid-19 task force chairman Dr Abdullatif al-Khal as warning that “a remarkable increase in the number of infections may be an early indicator of a possible second wave”.

Earlier this week, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which opened itself as an international travel destination in July, closed all bars and pubs for the entire month of February and limited other activities after a spike in coronavirus cases followed New Year’s Eve celebrations that drew visitors from around the world.

Dubai authorities also warned hotels and restaurants to “postpone any activity that leads to large gatherings such as weekend brunches,” state-linked newspaper The National reported. Dubai’s alcohol-soaked weekend brunches, which feature unlimited food and booze, had been going on at some restaurants and bars despite the pandemic.

Oman, which has closed its land borders since mid-January but kept flights going, has been warning the public that cases continue to rise.

The Times of Oman reports that arrivals in Oman are expected to self-isolate for a week but Health Minister Dr Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Saidi commented earlier this week that, “Some people have been taking off their tracking bracelet after arriving and putting them on elderly people who do not usually leave home, to avoid quarantining.”

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