Kuwaiti police officers man a checkpoint at the entrance leading to the Hawally district of Kuwait City on May 29, 2020, after the district was put on lockdown to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

KUWAIT: Kuwait embarks today on a five-phase plan for a gradual return to normal life, brought to a standstill by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), starting with easing of curfew but locking down virus-hit areas. Minister of Health Dr Sheikh Basel Al-Sabah gave details of the plan, saying that each phase would last for three weeks. He said health authorities would give the go-ahead to move to the second phase if the assessment of the first phase was positive. However, if the health situation was not satisfactory, the phase could extend. “If indicators are positive we move to the next phase. If no indicators are safe in any phase, we will remain in the current phase for a longer time or go back to the previous phase,” he said.

The first phase, he explained, includes partial curfew (from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am) coupled with a lockdown on Farwaniya, Khaitan and Hawally areas because they saw surge in cases. Sheikh Basel said activities to resume in first phase included home deliveries of restaurants, telecommunication companies, food retailers, companies’ transportation of employees, gas stations, private clinics and car workshops. The second phase will see the curfew shortens to be between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am, said Sheikh Basel. In this phase, he said, workforce in government and private sectors should be less than 30 percent, in addition to resumption of constructions, banking sector, malls opening for eight hours and according to special instructions, parks and pickups from restaurants.

Sheikh Basel said the third phase would see an end of curfew, and health authorities would be assessing situation of areas under lockdown. He said phase three would see increase of workforce to less than 50 percent. He added visits for social care homes would be allowed, reopening of hotels, resorts and hotel apartments. Taxis will be allowed to operate with only one passenger, and Mosques would be allowed to perform Friday prayers.

Phase four, said the Minister of health, would see an increase in workforce, restaurants would be receiving customers but with restrictions, and public transportation resumed but with distancing. Sheikh Basel said all activities would resume in phase five, government and private sector returned to normal, families could gather, weddings and graduation ceremonies, health clubs and gyms to reopen, as well as cinemas and theaters.

Compliance with instructions

Sheikh Basel said success of phases depended on compliance with health instructions, like two-meter physical distancing, covering mouth and nose, hand wash and stay home. He urged the public to be extra careful with senior citizens who suffered from chronic diseases.”Failure to comply with these instructions could cause a setback and we go back to the previous step,” he warned.There will not be a normal life without a vaccine or a drug, he said. Sheikh Basel addressed a message to all people in Kuwait: “Cooperate, be optimistic and don’t let down.”

Government spokesman Tareq Al-Mezrem, at an online news conference from Seif Palace, said the cabinet eased the curfew to be for 12 hours; from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. He said the holiday of the public sector, originally due until May 28, would be extended until a further notice. The cabinet assigned ministers to prepare for the return of normal work.  Mezrem, said the government decided to impose lockdown on Farwaniya with exception of areas between streets: 60, 120, 502 and 129. Blocks four, six, seven, eight and nine of Khaitan will be under lockdown, while the whole of Hawally, Nuqra and Maidan Hawally would be closed, said Mezrem. He added a lockdown on Mahboula and Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh would continue.

Defeating the coronavirus

The five-phase plan takes into consideration health, economic and social aspects with main objective of defeating the coronavirus, His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah said Thursday. “We adopt a plan for gradual return to normal life, based on experiences of many countries, prepared by experts and specialists,” he told an online press conference following a cabinet meeting. This plan, he added, takes into consideration health, economic and social aspects, and to gradually open based on health indicators which will show the degree of compliance with health isntructions and to live up to social responsibility. He said “we cannot continue with complete closure and the country should resume operation and to live with this pandemic.”

“Today is different than previous months, we learned many lessons and know how this pandemic is easy to spread,” added His Highness the Prime Minister, citing collapse of health systems and economies of many countries around the world. However, he added, the success was compliance with the health instructions. He added the plan included many policies about social behavior, hygiene, transport and activities in many sectors, as well as taking into account recoveries and infections. His Highness the Prime Minister acknowledged they did not know how this pandemic would end with no drug or vaccine available. “We lived harsh experience,” he said. However, the upcoming phase would be a “challenge to the awareness of the society and how to work together against this pandemic to defeat it,” he said.

Six-month support

Meanwhile, the cabinet approved the disbursement of financial support to business owners and the national workforce in the private sector for a period of up to six months, a minister said on Thursday. The cabinet is sparing no effort in providing job security for the national workforce in light of the exceptional circumstances the country is going through, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Minister for Social Affairs and State Minister for Economic Affairs Mariam Al-Aqeel said in a statement. This support comes as part of an economic stimulus package aimed at ensuring the stability of employment conditions of nationals in the private sector and due to the cabinet’s commitment to strike a balance in the contractual relationship between business owners and Kuwaiti employees in the private sector, she explained.

The decision, reached on May 18, also aims at protecting the national workforce’s interests, ensuring job stability for them, and alleviating the burdens on employers, including owners of small and medium enterprises, affected by these exceptional circumstances. Upon receiving the sums, businesses will be legally bound not to terminate the services of their employed nationals or reducing their salaries until the end of June 2021. The Public Authority for Manpower has been assigned to disburse those affected on an urgent basis, Aqeel said. — KUNA