Persian Gulf launches new measures over virus fears

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Persian Gulf Arab states yesterday launched new restrictions over fears of the coronavirus resurging across their countries.

With populations including largely young and healthy foreign labourers, many Persian Gulf countries have avoided the higher death tolls seen elsewhere around the world. However, reported case numbers appear to be rising since the New Year, sparking concern even as several regional countries have some of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world.

In Saudi Arabia, where authorities already have banned travel to the kingdom from 20 countries, including the United States (US), officials also ordered all weddings and parties suspended. It closed down all shopping malls, gyms and other locations for 10 days, as well as indoor dining. Authorities warned the new measures could be extended.

The kingdom also ordered cemeteries to ensure graveside funerals have a distance of 100 metres between them. State-run Saudi Press Agency blamed the new procedures on “the emergence of indicators of an increase in the epidemic curve in some regions of Saudi Arabia that were caused by lax implementation of the preventive and precautionary measures and approved protocols”.

Saudi Arabia saw a peak in coronavirus cases in June. The kingdom brought those daily reported case numbers down under 100 in early January, but reported over 300 cases on Wednesday alone, according to government statistics.

Overall, the kingdom has reported over 368,000 cases of COVID-19, with 6,380 deaths. In Kuwait, authorities have ordered a two-week ban on foreigners arriving to the country beginning on Sunday. Separately, officials have ordered most businesses closed from 8pm to 5am beginning on Sunday for the next month. It closed health clubs, spas and gyms, as well as banned celebrations for its upcoming February 25 National Day.

Saudi health worker prepares to collect a swab sample for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at drive-through testing centre at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. PHOTO: AP