Saudi Arabia moved on March 3rd to tighten its borders amid the growing global threat from the coronavirus.
The Kingdom, which has reported only one case of the infection, barred people from other GCC countries from entering Saudi Arabia for 14 days after returning from areas where the virus is present. Travellers from another Gulf state must spend 14 consecutive days in that country and show no signs of the coronavirus.
Saudi citizens or residents entering from a GCC country must inform authorities in the Kingdom of any travel outside the GCC in the preceding 14 days. Everyone entering by land, including the Bahrain causeway, will be screened.
Saudi Arabia announced its first coronavirus case on March 2nd – a Saudi who had travelled from Iran via Bahrain over the King Fahad Causeway. Iran has one of the worst outbreaks outside of China, where COVID-19 originated. The infected person was in a stable condition and is being monitored by medical staff. Some 70 people who had been in physical contact with the person are now in quarantine.
Civil aviation chiefs have also stepped up preventive measures at airports and on Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia). Medical teams are examining all passengers from virus-prevalent areas, aircraft at risk of infection are being deep cleaned and sterilized, and Saudia is offering masks, cleansing kits and anti-bacterial wipes to passengers and crew.
There have been about 2,500 cases of the virus in the Gulf, almost all in or linked to Iran, which has been accused of covering up the extent of the infection despite reporting the highest number of deaths outside China.
Authorities in Tehran said that the country had 2,336 cases and 77 deaths. The death rate of 3.3 percent of those infected is similar to the global rate and suggests that Iran is finally telling the truth about the virus’s spread.
In the UAE, which has reported 21 cases, an international yoga festival and the Ultra electronic music festival in Abu Dhabi this month were cancelled, as were the Music Bank K-pop concert and a Hindu Holi festival in Dubai. The flagship Art Dubai fair was postponed, along with a women’s forum and the opening round of the 2020 World Triathlon Series in Abu Dhabi.
Authorities in Muscat cancelled a defence exhibition and postponed the Oman Petroleum & Energy Show. Qatar cancelled a defence exhibition and Bahrain postponed two oil and gas conferences until the second half of the year. Kuwait moved the regional multisport GCC Games from April to December, closed its zoo and banned shisha.
Worldwide, the coronavirus has infected more than 90,000 people and killed about 3,100 in 77 countries, although almost all in China, where it was first detected last December. Ukraine became the latest to report its first case on March 3rd.
In the US, where there are fewer than 100 virus cases but widespread fears of economic repercussions, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates by half a percentage point to 1-1.25 percent.
“The fundamentals of the US economy remain strong. However, the coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” the central bank said.