Dubai to support Emirates airline, closes tourist market to fight coronavirus

DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai said on Tuesday it would help its state-run Emirates airline overcome the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and enforced a full lockdown on a district famous for its gold and spice markets.

The United Arab Emirates, the region’s tourism and business hub which includes Dubai, has taken measures including temporarily halting passenger flights and launching a nationwide disinfection drive as the disease spreads in the region.

The total number of infections in the six Gulf Arab states neared 4,000 on Tuesday, with 21 deaths, after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman recorded new cases of the virus.

Saudi Arabia, which has the highest tally among them, reported two more coronavirus-linked deaths among expatriates to take its total to 10. It confirmed 110 new cases to reach 1,563.

The UAE announced one more death, a 67-year-old Asian man with pre-exisiting conditions, to bring its total to six, and recorded 53 more infections to raise the count to 664.

It had already extended a nightly curfew to April 5 to deep clean the country, but Dubai announced a 24-hour curfew would be imposed on the normally bustling tourist and trade district of Al Ras for two weeks starting Tuesday.

“I am glad they are doing this because it is for our protection,” said one rice trader who works in Al Ras but resides in the UAE’s Sharjah emirate. The trader, who declined to be named, told Reuters he was now conducting business online.

Dubai closed the main road entrances to Al Ras and halted public transport to the area, which abuts Dubai Creek, where dhows have been banned from shipping goods between Dubai and Iran, a regional epicentre for the virus.

Authorities would provide residents with essential needs, the Dubai Media Office said.

The UAE plans to open more drive-thru testing centres after the first was opened last week in the capital, Abu Dhabi.

“We will never hesitate to take any measures against any potential threat to people’s life. At the same time, we won’t let development grind to a halt,” Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the country’s de facto ruler, said.

Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed said the emirate’s government would inject fresh equity into the Emirates airline, given its strategic importance to the Dubai and UAE economy. He gave no details of the plan.

In Kuwait, the first Gulf state to halt passenger flights and impose a partial curfew, the health minister said a clearer picture on the success of containment efforts would emerge by early June.

“If infection numbers stabilise, there may be a gradual easing of current measures,” Basil al-Sabah told Al Rai newspaper. “But if the average rate of transmission increases then … I do not rule out the cabinet enforcing a full curfew.”

Gulf states continued repatriation flights from countries around the world. The UAE said it had evacuated more than 1,700 Emiratis and “those accompanying them”. Kuwait said it has brought back more than 2,700 citizens.

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