(Apr. 14, 2020) During the month of March 2020, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain, adopted a number of precautionary measures aimed at preventing coronavirus infections and curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Establishing a Coronavirus Center and Suspending Flights
After establishing a National Command and Control Center to monitor and follow up on coronavirus cases, the Saudi government suspended all international flights to and from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, the Sultanate of Oman, Turkey, South Korea, Italy, Germany, France, and Spain for two weeks. Exempted from the suspension are Saudi citizens who want to return to Saudi Arabia from outside the kingdom. In addition, the UAE has prohibited all flights to and from the UAE from four countries—Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey—as well as halted the issuance of visas until further notice. Likewise, Qatar suspended all incoming flights to Doha for 14 days from Sudan, Italy, France, Germany, and Spain, while Oman has suspended direct flights to China, Iran, and Italy.
Orders to Self-Quarantine
Following the flight suspensions, the Saudi government ordered all Saudi citizens coming back to the country from abroad to self-quarantine. In addition, the government has obligated all companies and institutions to apply home quarantine to expatriate workers arriving from outside the kingdom for 14 days from the date of their arrival. Similarly, Qatar has ordered Qatari citizens and permanent residents returning from abroad to self-quarantine for 14 days. Oman has also imposed 14 days of quarantine on all persons coming from China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy.
Fines and Terms of Imprisonment
The Saudi government has imposed a fine of 500,000 riyals (about US$132,700) on persons entering the country who fail to disclose health information regarding COVID-19 symptoms or their travel history during the past 14 days. The Kuwait government has imposed a term of imprisonment of six months and a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 dinars (about US$32,284 to $96,852) on anyone who violates the orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, expatriates returning to Kuwait who fail to undergo a coronavirus test at a health center within 72 hours of entering the country are punishable by one month’s imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 50 dinars (about US$160).
Shutting Down Religious Sites
In late February 2020, the Saudi government temporarily closed the country’s two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina for sterilization. The holy sites were reopened on March 5, but foreign pilgrims and traditional tourists from 25 countries were prohibited from entering the sites, while citizens of the kingdom and residents of the GCC must wait 14 days after returning from outside the region before they can visit the mosques. In accordance with a decision of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, the Saudi government has also temporarily suspended pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Similarly, on March 13, Kuwaiti authorities ordered the temporary suspension of all congregational and weekly Friday prayers at all mosques, calling on worshipers to pray in their homes instead.
Suspension of Public Gatherings, Social Activities, and Public Transportation
Authorities in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar have suspended all social activities and temporarily closed assembly sites. Gatherings in public places, such as parks, beaches, resorts, camps, and safari parks have been banned, and all sports activities, tournaments, and competitions have been cancelled. Gyms, barbershops, beauty salons, private sports centers, hookah places, cafes, movie theaters, restaurants, and auction sites have been shut down. Gatherings for weddings and funerals are also prohibited.
With respect to public transportation, the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia have suspended all services, including metro, taxi and ridesharing, and bus services until further notice.
Closure of Nonessential Government Agencies, Schools, and Universities
The Saudi Arabia government has closed all nonessential government agencies until further notice, except for the health, security, and military sectors, the electronic security center, and the remote education system in the education sector. Also, the government has urged the private sector to reduce the number of employees and workers in workplaces by promoting teleworking.
With respect to schools and universities, all the Gulf countries have suspended studies in public schools, universities, and technical education.
On April 6, the Saudi government issued a royal order instituting a national curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. effective immediately until further notice. Similarly, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait have issued curfews on the movement of their citizens and expatriates from the early evening until 6 a.m.
Prepared by Zahrah Majeed, Law Library intern, under the supervision of George Sadek, Foreign Law Specialist.
Updated April 17, 2020