By B Izzak

KUWAIT: The number of new coronavirus cases surged to 4,397 yesterday, with the infection rate climbing to a dangerous 11.7 percent, as government departments are due to cut staff and working hours from today. The ministry also reported one death, as the number of cases in intensive care units rose to 15 and patients in hospitals increased to 162. Based on official statistics, there are more than 24,600 active COVID-19 cases in the country.

The ministry of health also said it has changed protocols in dealing with COVID-19, stressing that unvaccinated people who come in contact with infected cases must undergo home quarantine for 14 days. Kuwait has reported close to 25,000 coronavirus cases since the start of January, according to official figures released by the health ministry, the fastest rate of infection since the outbreak of the pandemic almost two years ago.

The ministry yesterday advised people who experience symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat or fever to avoid mixing with others, rest and take more liquids. According to the new health protocols, people who come in contact with a positive COVID-19 case for at least 15 minutes without covering their mouth and nose at a distance of less than two meters must undergo home quarantine for 14 days. Vaccinated people can end the quarantine after seven days after a negative PCR test result.

The ministry also said people who are infected must remain under home quarantine for seven days if vaccinated and 10 days if unvaccinated. According to the new protocols, people are considered immune if they have taken the third booster dose, along with those who took the second dose less than nine months ago.

Kuwait recorded under 2,500 cases in the three months between mid-September to mid-December, when cases began to rise at an unprecedented rate. The ministry does not say if the new cases are of the new Omicron variant, which is sweeping the world. Based on decisions taken by the Cabinet which met remotely on Monday, various ministries and government departments announced they will start cutting staff and working hours from today.

A majority of ministries said they will cut the working staff by more than half, while working hours will be from 9.00 am to 1.00 pm. Ministries have resorted to offering their services to the public remotely, and in case physical presence is needed, prior appointments must be booked online. Local banks have said they plan to reduce their working staff to the minimum level needed to perform services. The Cabinet on Monday also decided to cut passengers on public transport to 50 percent, while it barred unvaccinated people from attending games and going to barbershops, salons and health clubs.

Meanwhile, 10 MPs yesterday submitted a new motion calling to convene a special session tomorrow to debate civil rights for stateless people and compensating civil servants for unused annual leave. Another motion was submitted a few days ago to hold a session tomorrow to debate other issues. The government said it will attend the session.