Qatar restricts entry, announces $23 bn stimulus over virus

By: AFP      Published: 01:45 AM, 16 Mar, 2020
Qatar restricts entry, announces $23 bn stimulus over virus
A view of an airport in Qatar.–File photo

Qatar will bar entry to arriving air passengers except citizens from Wednesday, the government said as it announced a $23 billion economic stimulus in response to the new coronavirus.

The country is the worst affected in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with 401 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday. It has not reported any fatalities but has closed universities, schools, gyms and cinemas as well as cancelling many public events including the MotoGP.

“We’ve taken a  number of decisions, including suspending inward flights to Qatar starting from Wednesday evening for two weeks,” assistant foreign minister Lolwah al-Khater told media in Doha.

The measure could be extended at the end of the initial two week period, she said, and will be accompanied by a $23 billion economic stimulus package that will include $2.75 billion to shore-up the stock market.

Khater said “transit flights, cargo flights and Qatari nationals who want to come back to the country” would be exempted from the new measures.

Outbound flights will be unaffected.

Khater also said that all public transport in Doha would be suspended from 1900 GMT on Sunday.

The principal user of Doha’s Hamad International Airport is state-run Qatar Airways, which mostly operates the transit flights exempt from the new measures.

Passengers of the airline will still be able to fly between third-country destinations but will be unable to enter Qatar during their transfer.

Visas on arrival had already been suspended for travellers from Italy, France, Spain and Germany as Qatar urged its citizens abroad to return home.

Qatari health officials said on Saturday that four patients had made a full recovery after being diagnosed with the virus.

Many of Qatar’s initial cases were from a group of citizens and their foreign staff repatriated to the country from Iran, where more than 700 people had died in the outbreak by Sunday.

Facing a mounting public health threat, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman have taken drastic measures to combat the pandemic.

Kuwait has taken the strictest measures in the GCC by largely locking down the country over the weekend, the only nation other than Italy to do so.

In Doha, the usually bustling market in the heart of the tourist centre was eerily quiet, while Riyadh’s shopping district also lay barren.