By Alaa Swilam
DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates will reinforce its stockpile of strategic goods and waive residency visa fines for the rest of the year in response to the coronavirus outbreak, its vice president said on Sunday.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, the region’s tourism and business hub, did not say what goods were included in the stockpile or give further details on the visa fine waiver.
Tweeting after a cabinet meeting, he also said authorities had directed factories to support the health sector’s needs in the country, which has recorded 1,505 infections and 10 deaths.
Dubai imposed a two-week lockdown on Saturday night, tightening an overnight curfew that the whole of the UAE has been under for 10 days. Reported daily new cases in the UAE have increased recently as testing has been stepped up.
The UAE central bank also announced new measures on Sunday to guarantee liquidity in the banking system, boosting its stimulus package to a total of $70 billion from a previously announced $27 billion.
Elsewhere the UAE’s embassy in the United Kingdom announced two charter flights this week to return more than 80 Emiratis home. It also said an Emirates Airline plane had flown 345 British citizens back to the UK, after being unable to return home after the closure of UAE airports to international traffic.
Countries of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have recorded 6,757 cases of infection and 54 deaths. Saudi Arabia on Sunday reported five more deaths from the virus, bringing the total death toll to 34. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 206 in the past 24 hours to 2,385, the highest among Gulf Arab states.
The kingdom’s foreign ministry said it would register requests this week from citizens abroad who want to return home, with priority given to the elderly and pregnant women and those in countries most affected.
The tourism ministry has prepared some 11,000 hotel rooms for returning nationals, who are subject to a 14-day quarantine.
Saudi authorities said separately that 366 Turkish pilgrims had returned home after testing negative for coronavirus.
The kingdom has suspended the year-long umrah pilgrimage and told Muslims to wait to make plans for the annual haj pilgrimage, which begins this year in July.
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Qatar Development Bank launched a programme to provide guarantees to local banks to grant interest-free loans to companies affected by the outbreak, state news agency QNA said.
The move came under the direction of Qatar’s emir and is in cooperation with its ministry of finance, the central bank and all banks operating in the country.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington and Nafisa Eltahir Editing by Jan Harvey and David Holmes)