By Alexander Cornwell and Aziz El Yaakoubi
DUBAI (Reuters) – Dubai said on Tuesday it would help its state-run Emirates airline mitigate the financial blow from the coronavirus outbreak as authorities enforced a full lockdown on a district famous for gold and spice markets.
The United Arab Emirates, the Gulf 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.
Total infections in the six Gulf Arab states surpassed 4,000 on Tuesday, with 22 deaths, after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar all recorded new transmissions.
Saudi Arabia, which has the highest regional tally, reported two more fatalities among expatriates, taking its total to 10, and confirmed 110 new cases to reach 1,563.
The kingdom asked Muslims to wait for more clarity about the pandemic before planning to attend the annual haj pilgrimage, which begins in late July and usually attracts some 2.5 million worshippers from around the world.
The UAE announced one more death, a 67-year-old Asian man with pre-existing conditions, bringing 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 on Tuesday it was imposing a 24-hour curfew on the normally bustling tourist and trade district of Al Ras for two weeks.
“I am glad they are doing this because it is for our protection,” said a 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 and halted public transport to Al Ras, which abuts Dubai Creek where dhows have been banned from shipping goods between Dubai and Iran, a regional epicenter for the virus.
Authorities will provide residents with essential needs, the Dubai Media Office said.
The UAE plans to open more drive-thru testing centers 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,” said Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the country’s de facto ruler.
Dubai 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, but gave no details.
In Kuwait, the first Gulf state to halt passenger flights and impose a partial curfew due to the pandemic, the health minister said a clearer picture of the success of containment efforts would emerge by early June.
“If infection numbers stabilize, 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.”
Qatar reported its second death and 88 new cases.
Gulf states continued repatriation flights from countries around the world. The UAE said it had evacuated more than 1,700 nationals and “those accompanying them”. Kuwait said it has brought back more than 2,700 citizens.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Maha El Dahan, Ghaida Ghantous, Marwa Rashad and Alaa Swilam; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)