DUBAI — Saudi Arabia announced Monday sweeping new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus, including shutting down all shopping malls, closing government offices and banning gatherings in parks or beaches.
The announcement comes as the wealthy states of the Persian Gulf enacted a series of measures and announce economic stimulus programs to cope with the worldwide pandemic. Kuwait earlier closed all restaurants and commercial establishments. The United Arab Emirates, however, a major travel hub and tourist destination, has at least kept some establishments open for now.
Bahrain on Monday reported its first coronavirus fatality — the first among gulf Arab states — a 65-year-old female national with chronic health problems who’d returned from Iran the month before. The island kingdom has confirmed 214 cases.
In Saudi Arabia, where 118 cases of the virus have been reported, government and public sector workers have been ordered to stay home for the next 16 days unless they work in “the health, security, and military sectors, the Electronic Security Center, and the remote education system.”
All markets and malls have been closed except pharmacies and food stores, including super markets and hypermarkets, “provided that they commit to sterilizing shopping carts in them after each use of their clients,” the statement from the Interior Ministry said.
Shops that aren’t part of a commercial complex on a street can remain open and restaurant may only serve food on a takeaway basis. All expatriates coming into the country to work (non-residents have already been banned) must quarantine themselves for 14 days. All court sessions, except those deemed urgent, have also been postponed until further notice.
In neighboring UAE, cinemas, theme parks and most tourist attractions have been ordered closed, but for now malls are still accessible. Dubai Mall’s aquarium and skating rink were closed, as was the observation deck on the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Most residential complexes have also shut down swimming pools and playgrounds to stem the spread of the virus, creating further challenges for parents as all children are at home following school closures 10 days ago.
On Sunday night, the UAE reported 12 new cases, bringing the country’s total to 98. The country was the first in the Middle East to report coronavirus cases in Chinese tourists, but since then the spread has been minimal.