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Saudi Arabia restricts movement, other Gulf states limit entry as coronavirus spreads

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia closed public spaces on Sunday (Mar 15) and announced a pause in most government operations while Qatar and Oman imposed entry restrictions as Gulf Arab states broadened efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus and support their economies.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar reported new cases, raising the total number in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to 963, with no deaths reported.

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Qatar, which now has 401 cases, said it would ban non-Qatari passengers from entering the country for two weeks starting on Wednesday.

It announced measures to shield its economy, including 75 billion riyals (US$20.5 billion) in incentives for the private sector and more state investment in the local bourse.

Oman said that as of Tuesday it would allow in only GCC citizens, and ordered the suspension of Friday prayers, social events such as weddings and closure of public parks.

Saudi Arabia reported 15 more coronavirus cases, taking its total to 118. Local municipalities tweeted directives for the closure of malls, restaurants, coffee shops and public parks, while exempting supermarkets, pharmacies and food delivery. Al Arabiya TV said the measures would apply across the country.

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READ: Commentary: How safety measures for the coronavirus could lead to worrisome changes in behaviour

State news agency SPA reported that government operations were suspended for 16 days except for the health and security sectors. The justice ministry said earlier non-urgent judicial hearings were postponed indefinitely.

Regional tourism and business hub Dubai joined the UAE capital Abu Dhabi in closing cinemas, arcades, spas, gyms and parks, prompting a rush on supermarkets where many shoppers wore masks and gloves, residents said.

The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange closed trading halls until further notice, a day after Kuwait's bourse did the same.

The UAE recorded 12 more travel-linked infections among various nationalities – South African, Australian, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, Lebanese, British, Iranian, Emirati and three Indians – raising its total to 98.

DRASTIC MEASURES

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which previously cancelled the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region, have taken the most drastic steps among Gulf states by halting international passenger flights. The UAE and Qatar have restricted entry visas. Emirates airline suspended more flights.

Saudi Arabia's central bank will intervene to support the kingdom's economy if liquidity is tight or credit is affected, its governor said, reiterating a commitment to the riyal's dollar peg.

An American living in the Saudi capital Riyadh said his parents cut short their visit ahead of the kingdom's two-week flight ban which went into effect at 0800 GMT.

"I'm glad that they're off even though it means 24 hours in the airport hotel in Dubai," he said.

READ: Chaos at US airports as COVID-19 medical screenings jam up returning Americans

Two gated compounds in Riyadh housing hundreds of expatriates each reported one case among residents, according to internal emails seen by Reuters. Some compounds restricted Read More – Source

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