KUWAIT: Kuwait's Cabinet announced the closure of all ports and the suspended all commercial flights from 11 pm yesterday until Friday, Jan 1, 2021, after a new fast-spreading strain of coronavirus appeared in Britain. Kuwait on Sunday had banned passenger flights from Britain over the new strain of the virus.

Citizens and residents who arrived to Kuwait from the European Union and United Kingdom between Dec 11, 2020 and Dec 21, 2020 are required to undergo a PCR test on the fifth and tenth days since arrival. They are instructed to take the test at Jaber Hospital from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, and bring evidence of their return date with them.

Late Sunday, Saudi Arabia halted international flights and suspended entry through its land and sea ports for at least a week. The kingdom is "temporarily suspending all international flights - except in exceptional cases - for a period of one week, which can be extended by another week," the official Saudi Press Agency said. "Entry to the kingdom through land and sea ports will also be suspended for a week, which can be extended by another week," SPA added, citing the interior ministry.

The suspension does not apply to international aircraft currently in the kingdom, which will be allowed to leave, SPA said. Cargo into Saudi Arabia will only be permitted from countries where the new strain has not been identified as having broken out. The Gulf sultanate of Oman adopted similar measures. It "decided (on Monday) to ban entry and exit from the country through the various land, air and sea borders starting 1:00 am local time on Tuesday December 22 for a week", the official Oman News Agency reported.

The decision was based on what "authorities in a number of countries announced regarding the emergence of a new COVID-19 strain", it said, adding the suspension will not apply to cargo flights and vessels. The development comes after several European countries banned travel from Britain on Sunday as the UK government warned that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was "out of control".

SPA said passengers who arrived in Saudi Arabia from Europe - or any country where the new strain was detected - starting Dec 8 will be required to self-isolate for two weeks, and undergo testing. Alarm bells are ringing across Europe - which last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 - after it appeared that a more infectious strain of the virus was raging in parts of Britain.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Jordan too said it was banning all direct and indirect flights from the United Kingdom until Jan 3, according to a statement by Minister of State for Media Affairs Ali Ayed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday the Jewish state had implemented a "decision to close the country's skies", by preventing arrivals by most foreigners, although diplomats would be exempted.

Over 1.69 million people have died after contracting coronavirus since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP. Several Gulf countries have in the past couple of weeks rolled out COVID-19 vaccination programs.

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council - which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman - have so far recorded more than one million novel coronavirus cases, including over 9,000 deaths. Saudi Arabia's death toll is highest among them at more than 6,000. But the kingdom has also reported a high recovery rate. - Agencies