March 13, 2020 / 10:36 AM / 17 days ago

Gulf states cancel events, Kuwait shuts mosques over coronavirus

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait’s religious authorities asked Muslims to pray at home on Friday as the emirate prepares to enter a period of virtual lockdown to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: A family wear protective face masks, as they arrive at a makehsift coronavirus testing centre at the Mishref Fair Grounds in Kuwait city, Kuwait March 12, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee

“The doors of the mosques will stay closed,” said the ministry of religious endowment in a statement, citing a religious decree. “The fatwa removes the need to attend prayers on Friday in mosques, and authorises having them at home, to protect the people from coronavirus.”

Kuwait confirmed 20 new cases in the past 24 hours, reporting a total of 100 to Friday, state news agency KUNA said.

The government announced on Wednesday that passenger flights will be cancelled for an undetermined period from midnight on Friday to and from Kuwait’s only international airport.

The measures also provide for a two-week public holiday, ending on March 29, and the closure of gyms, public gardens and the popular Friday market. Restaurants and coffee shops are only allowed to keep delivery services open.

Vital services, including oil production, are excluded from the ruling. Kuwait National Petroleum said on Friday strategic reserves of oil products were at a “safe” level and all measures taken to deal with emergencies.

Formula One said on Friday it hoped to start its 2020 season in Europe at the end of May after cancelling this weekend’s Australian opener and postponing the next three races in Bahrain, Vietnam and China due to the coronavirus.

Bahrain ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners on Thursday, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy which linked the decision to efforts to contain the virus.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa issued a decree granting pardon for 901 prisoners. A further 585 prisoners will spend the remainder of their sentences in rehabilitation and training programs, the state-run Bahrain news agency reported.

CASES RISE

Dozens more cases of coronavirus have been registered in the Gulf Arab states over the past 24 hours. Saudi Arabia reported 17 additional cases taking its total to 62.

More than 700 cases have been reported to Friday in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. No deaths have been announced so far. Authorities say most of those infected had travelled to Iran, the regional epicentre of the outbreak, or been in contact with returnees.

Iran, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic outside China, reported 514 deaths and a total of 11,364 cases on Friday.

“Our law enforcement and security committees, along with the Interior Ministry and provincial governors, will be clearing shops, streets and roads ... This will take place in the next 24 hours,” Iranian state TV cited Armed Forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Bagheri as saying at a meeting about the virus.

Qatar has registered 262 cases, Bahrain 210 and the United Arab Emirates 85.

In the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways announced the suspension of flights to and from Rome and Milan on Friday, from March 14. The death toll in Italy passed 1,000, in Europe’s deadliest outbreak.

In Dubai, the UAE business and international transit hub, Emirates airline suspended until further notice all flights to and from Italy, except Rome.

Abu Dhabi ordered the suspension of all events and the closure of nightclubs, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

In Dubai, the March 20 K-Pop Super Concert which was to have featured performers including South Korea’s Super Junior band was postponed, according to organisers.

Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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