HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: The government yesterday announced a "cautious" return to pre-pandemic life, ending 20 months of closures. From Oct 24, the airport will resume operations at full capacity and all types of visas will be issued. "Today, we announce the cautious return to normal life and the start of the fifth and final phase" of returning to pre-pandemic life, HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah said in a brief speech following an extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet.

He also announced the cancellation of all restrictions which the government began to impose in late February last year to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 2,400 lives in the country. Sheikh Sabah expressed thanks to frontline workers, whom he called the "white army", and all volunteers who participated in the extraordinary efforts to combat COVID-19. He admitted that some mistakes had been committed, "but successes have overtaken mistakes", and authorities are now dealing with a post-pandemic Kuwait.

Government Spokesman Tareq Al-Mazrem said the Cabinet approved proposals by the coronavirus emergency committee that led to reopening the country, but urged the public to comply with health conditions. He said that the Cabinet asked the ministry of Islamic affairs to end social distancing in mosques from Friday, Oct 22, provided that worshippers are vaccinated, bring their own prayer mats and continue to wear facemasks.

The Cabinet also allowed the return of conferences and wedding parties, provided only vaccinated people are allowed to attend and participants should wear masks. The decision is effective from October 24. Mazrem said the Cabinet also decided to lift the requirement to wear masks in open areas from Oct 24, but masks remain compulsory in closed areas.

The Cabinet asked the interior ministry and the manpower authority to start issuing all types of visas to people vaccinated with approved vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) from Oct 24, he said. The Cabinet also directed the Civil Aviation Department to operate Kuwait airport at its full capacity of around 30,000 passengers per day from Oct 24, Mazrem said.

Kuwait's Union of Tourism and Travel Offices said in a statement yesterday that the main reason for skyrocketing prices of air tickets, which have risen by 500 percent, was due to the limited capacity of the airport, saying airfares will drop sharply after the airport resumes full operations. Kuwait's land border and sea terminals will also operate at full capacity.

Health Minister Sheikh Basel Al-Sabah said figures show that the health situation is improving and the pandemic is on the decline. He however warned against failing to comply with the necessary health conditions, especially wearing masks, to make the reopening a success. He said restrictions could be re-imposed if the number of cases rises sharply or new variants are detected.

The minister said PCR tests will remain in place for travelers arriving to Kuwait, and unvaccinated arrivals will be quarantined. To enter the country, foreigners must be fully vaccinated with authorized vaccines in Kuwait, while those who have taken other vaccines must take a third booster dose of a vaccine authorized by Kuwait. Sheikh Basel also insisted that the "pandemic has not ended. It is still there". The minister said health authorities have begun giving the booster dose to certain sections of the society in a bid to boost their immunity.