BEIRUT: Troops patrolled deserted city streets and army helicopters circled Beirut on Sunday as Lebanese people were warned to “prepare for the worst” from the coronavirus outbreak.
Soldiers set up roadblocks and military aircraft broadcast loudspeaker messages urging people to obey official instructions and stay at home as the number of virus cases rose by 18 to 248.
The crackdown was necessary because “some people are not complying with the necessary preventive measures to protect their relatives, families, friends, community, and even their neighbors,” Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi said.
“We must save ourselves, our families and our country before it is too late. We must prepare for the worst while maintaining hope and faith that we will overcome this crisis by doing the right thing.”
Saudi Arabia reported 119 new virus cases on Sunday, raising the total to 511. Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali said 72 of the new patients were Turkish, and were under quarantine in Makkah after being in direct contact with another Turkish national who was already infected.
More than 4,000 people were under quarantine, Abdelali said. “We are starting to see more cases linked to interactions ... we advise everyone to stay home.”
In the UAE, Emirates airline initially said it was halting all passenger operations by Wednesday, but said later that some flights would continue as long as borders remained open and there was passenger demand. Cargo flights will also operate.
“We find ourselves in a situation where we cannot viably operate passenger services until countries reopen their borders, and travel confidence returns,” chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum said.
Three luxury hotels operated by the developer Emaar in the Downtown Dubai area, which is popular with tourists, have stopped taking bookings. The UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, announced an additional economic stimulus of 16 billion dirhams, bringing the total to 126 billion dirhams ($34.3 billion).
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Oman on Sunday banned public gatherings, limited staffing at state entities, closed currency exchanges and banned the publication or distribution of newspapers and magazines.
Kuwait imposed a partial curfew and extended a work suspension for two weeks. Some supermarkets are allowing only 50 shoppers at a time.
Qatar, where 481 coronavirus cases have been reported, has introduced checkpoints to enforce a ban on public gatherings. There are fears for the health of tens of thousands of migrant workers under quarantine, effectively locked into a densely populated district southwest of Doha, known as the Industrial Area. No one is allowed to leave.
Amnesty International warned that cramped conditions there were putting the workers at risk, and called for “access to health care, including preventive care and treatment for everyone affected, without discrimination.”
In Iran, the regional hotspot of the virus outbreak with more than 21,000 cases of infection and 1,685 deaths, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said his country would never accept medical aid from “American liars, manipulators, impudent and greedy ... charlatans.”
Iran, which is struggling to contain the outbreak, has so far received medical equipment or financial aid from Azerbaijan, Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan, Qatar, Russia, Turkey and the UAE.