UAE cancels events, flights due to coronavirus as central bank announces fiscal plan

DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates said on Saturday it was shutting major tourism and cultural venues, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum and the Ferrari World theme park, from March 15-31, as Gulf states stepped up measures against coronavirus.

The UAE central bank also announced a 100 billion AED ($27 billion) economic plan to contain expected fallout, while the civil aviation authority said it was indefinitely suspending all flights to and from Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, starting March 17.

Dubai, the UAE’s regional business and transit hub, said it was cancelling all events planned in March and asked hotels to stop hosting wedding celebrations for the duration. Some shops have voluntarily closed to boost containment efforts in the emirate, which has reported 85 cases.

Gulf Arab states have stepped up measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait taking the most drastic decisions by cancelling all international flights.

Saudi Arabia, which reported 17 new cases on Saturday to bring its total to 103, said it would suspend flights for two weeks from Sunday, while Kuwait did not specify a period for the lockdown which began on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia has also suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region where many infections are located.

Saudi health ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali on Saturday urged the population of 30 million to avoid gathering in public places, minimize movements and stay at home as much as possible.

“(Such) measures slow the growth of cases so that we can control and deal with it, while the countries that take delayed measures experience fast growth which the health systems cannot deal with,” he told reporters in Riyadh.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of six oil-rich Arab monarchies which also includes Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, has reported nearly 850 coronavirus cases, mostly of people who had traveled to Iran or who were contaminated by them.

No deaths have been reported in the GCC, unlike in Iran where the toll rose by nearly 100 on Saturday to 611, out of a total of 12,729 infections.

Oman, which has the lowest number of infections in the region at 20, said on Saturday all schools and educational institutions would close for a month, a precaution also taken by other GCC states.

Saudi Arabia and Oman canceled all sports events and activities until further notice, their state media said.

The UAE will stop issuing all visas, except for foreign diplomats, starting on March 17, the official news agency WAM reported, citing immigration authorities.

Qatar will stop issuing visas upon arrival to a number of European nationalities from Sunday, the government communication office said.

Qatar confirmed 17 new infections on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 337, the highest in the GCC, followed by Bahrain with 211 and Kuwait with 104.

Gulf health authorities have intensified pleas to avoid gatherings and are carrying out campaigns to sanitize public places.

Police in Kuwait used drones fitted with loudspeakers to urge people on the streets to avoid gathering.

“I urge you by God to stay at home,” Kuwaiti Health Minister Basel Al-Sabah said on state TV.

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