Coronavirus: Oman closes off largest free zone after a spate of new infections

Duqm is home to more than $10 billion worth of business investments

Oman has developed its Duqm port into a major industrial hub. Fatma Alarimi / Reuters
Oman has developed its Duqm port into a major industrial hub. Fatma Alarimi / Reuters

Oman will close off the coastal city of Duqm and its free zone, the largest in the country, for three weeks from Saturday after a spate of new coronavirus infections there, the ministry of health said.

The measure was announced as the sultanate reported 1,000-plus new cases on Thursday, but its total remains lower than other Gulf states except Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, which has the highest number of cases, reported a new record daily increase with 3,733 more confirmed infections, raising its tally to 116,021.

The Saudi health ministry said 38 more people died since Wednesday, taking the kingdom's total Covid-19 deaths to 857.

Qatar, where infections have been rising steeply, announced 1,476 new cases and three more fatalities on Thursday, bringing the respective totals to 75,071 and 69.

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Coronavirus in the Middle East

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Bahrain's ministry of health reported 468 new Covid-19 cases and one more death on Thursday. It said 378 people have recovered, raising the recovery total to 11,487 out of the 16,667 cases reported so far, according to a tally kept by John Hopkins University.

The total number of cases in Kuwait rose to 34,432 with 609 new cases reported on Thursday, while the death toll rose by four to 279. Total recoveries rose by 849 to 24,137, the Kuwaiti health ministry said.

Although cases in Oman are comparatively low, the health ministry on Thursday ordered Duqm to be "closed from the rest of the country from June 13 to July 3 to control the rate of infection in the area”.

“Increase in the spread of the virus outside Muscat is due to the lack of physical distancing,” state TV quoted Health Minister Ahmed Al Saeedi as saying.

The free zone in Duqm hosts more than $10 billion worth of investments, including a ship repair yard, an oil refinery, logistics centre, manufacturing units and a dry dock.

Oman has two other free zones – Sohar to the north and Salalah in the southern governorate of Dhofar.

The sultanate's health ministry announced that 1,311 more Covid-19 patients had recovered – nearly double the 689 recoveries reported on Wednesday. The total number of recoveries so far stands at 5,640.

Meanwhile, 1,067 new cases were reported in the previous 24 hours, the ministry said, taking the total number of infected people to 19,954.

Mr Al Saeedi said 232 healthcare workers were among the people currently infected with the virus.

Transport minister Ahmed Al Futaisi said domestic airports would not be reopened this month as planned since the infection rates in Duqm and Salalah were not easing.

“Resuming domestic flights will be delayed due to the lockdown of Dhofar and Duqm,” he said.

Mr Al Futaisi said his ministry was working with UAE officials on reopening borders between the two countries.

“Co-ordination and talks between Oman and UAE to fully open the borders are under way,” he said.

Oman has lost substantial revenue from closure of the airport in Salalah, a popular tourist destination, and the cancellation of the Khareef festival in the city because of the coronavirus outbreak, Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Mahrizi said.

“Nearly 80 million rials [Dh795m] will be lost this year compared to the last Khareef festival in Salalah, but the decision to close the Dhofar governorate was taken to save people’s lives," Mr Al Mahrizi said.

The Khareef festival, which takes place every summer between June and August, has been cancelled for the first time in 34 years. The event attracts more than 100,000 visitors from the UAE and about 300,000 visitors from other GCC states.

Updated: June 11, 2020 08:25 PM

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