Why Was Kuwait One of the Most Hard-Hit Gulf Countries by COVID-19?
By: Noureldin Mohamed/Arab America Contributing Writer
Cases of COVID-19 has surged in Kuwait, as the state approached its second week of lockdown. The official lockdown began on May 10th and ended on May 30th. However, Kuwait seems to have one of the highest coronavirus cases in the gulf and across the world. With 28,649 cases and 226 deaths making it number 32 on the list of countries infected, going back to normal life is not an easy task.
Handling the pandemic
To handle the high amount of cases, the government designated the luxury Khiran resort and five-star Al-Kout Beach Hotel as quarantine centers for citizens. In addition, Kuwait’s international fairgrounds were to be used for testing and as a field hospital. Confirmed cases are required to attest to a 14-day quarantine as medical care, food, and any other necessities are provided. No visitors are allowed, and social distancing is strictly enforced.
There are several reasons for the continued surge in no order of importance. One, the government of Kuwait has operated over 60 flights to repatriate its citizens since the start of the pandemic in late February. This includes citizens traveling outside of Kuwait for tourism, medical emergencies, students, and Kuwaitis working abroad. They have implemented a three-phase system to bring in nationals as a top priority, while also cracking down on illegal migrant laborers in the country. Although deportation faces these undocumented laborers, Kuwait has offered to transport them to their home countries.
Closures and safety precautions
Ministries and government offices, including passport and residency and Kuwait’s International Airport are closed. The airport is closed for commercial flights, however, citizens coming in, ex-pats and residency holders willing to exit the country can do so with notified flight dates. The U.S. embassy, as well as other foreign embassies in Kuwait, have sent multiple flight dates for their citizens who would like to return to their home country for a hefty price. These flights are not paid for and individuals are required to figure out a plan once they leave Kuwait and land in a connection/transfer airport.
Kuwaiti citizens coming in are subject to a 28-day quarantine of their choice, at home, or a field hospital. Another reason for the increased national surgence of COVID-19 cases is the mass violations of the previous nationwide lockdown and curfew hours. Legal precautions and measures are being taken as violators are subjected to a 10,000 KD (equivalent to $33,000 fine), 3-year imprisonment or immediate deportations for expatriates. Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior with the collaboration of the Ministry of Health has launched an online app and website to keep track of the repatriated citizens in quarantine. The government kept track of cases with optimized bracelets, along with daily symptoms and photo updates.
A Full Lockdown?
As the announcement for a full lockdown was ordered on May 10th, people were lined up outside grocery stores for hours after their IDs and place of residency was checked with the appropriate cooperative branch. Although cooperatives and grocery stores remain open, people will still have to book an appointment in advance and one person from each family will be allowed out for shopping. Locals and residents were required to wear protective masks and were allowed out for walks between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. in conjunction with the prohibited use of vehicles.
Home deliveries were allowed only for essential food and pharmaceutical supplies to provide an easier form of social distancing in a well-organized fashion. Minister Sheikh Dr. Basil Al-Sabah stated that two rapid drive-thru examination centers to detect COVID-19 have been prepared and will be launched soon. He also confirmed that the healed case numbers are rising in Kuwait while issuing a call to citizens and residents to abide by all health requirements and not to go out except for necessities, as they continue to monitor and control the outbreak.
The Issue of Migrant Laborers
On the other hand, migrant workers are most susceptible to the virus because of poor and unsanitary living conditions. These laborers are placed in houses with 10-12 workers in each room as they barely have enough money to pay for a room for themselves. In April, two areas in Kuwait were placed under complete isolation for two weeks, Jleeb Al Shuyoukh and Mahboula. The two areas are made up predominantly of those expatriate workers. The Human Rights Watch called on Kuwaiti authorities to ensure adequate protection amid the pandemic.
As of May 30th, the government of Kuwait announced to relieve lockdown and allow people to go out with restrictions and a curfew still in place. Masks are to be worn and social distancing is part of strict regulations. They have also proposed a five-phase plan easing a return back to normal life. With each phase including a small portion of the population going back to normal working hours, a hope for reviving the economy.
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