* Bahrain to also foot utility bills of people, businesses
* Oman says COVID-19 spread among migrant workers challenging
* Coronavirus cases in Gulf Arab region pass 9,800 (Adds Gulf reporting more coronavirus cases, lockdown of Oman’s Muscat governorate)
DUBAI, April 8 (Reuters) - Bahrain will spend $570 million on paying salaries to all 100,000 of its citizens employed in the private sector from April to June to help soften the economic blow from the coronavirus outbreak, the government said on Wednesday.
Governments in the Gulf region have announced stimulus packages to support their economies as they implement drastic measures to combat the pandemic, including suspending passenger flights, imposing curfews and closing most public venues.
Gulf Arab states recorded new cases on Wednesday to raise the total number of infections in the six countries to over 9,800, with 67 deaths. The United Arab Emirates, which saw its count more than double in the past week, on Wednesday reported 300 more cases to take its tally to 2,659.
Bahrain, the least wealthy among Gulf Arab oil producers, said the government would assist Bahraini citizens and businesses by also paying electricity and water bills and extending some tax breaks on properties and tourism.
“Bahrain has set up an electronic platform where businessmen will start subscribing on Apr. 8 to benefit from the government’s plan to pay workers in the private sector,” the Labour Ministry said of the initiative, part of an $11 billion stimulus package announced last month for the private sector.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged Gulf states to also protect low-wage foreign workers, who make up the bulk of the labour force in the region and whose overcrowded living conditions make it difficult for them to observe social-distancing to stem transmissions of the virus.
Oman said on Wednesday it would ban movement into and out of the Muscat governorate, which includes the capital, from April 10 until April 22 as part of containment efforts.
“Our biggest challenge is among expatriate workers,” Omani Health Minister Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al-Saidi said in a radio interview, adding that the biggest spread in the sultanate was in the coastal commercial area of Muttrah, located in Muscat governorate, where a lockdown was imposed last week.
He said authorities would ramp up testing as the number of cases was expected to peak this month, and that Oman had secured lab equipment and protective gear from China.
Oman has the lowest number of cases among Gulf states, at 419, while the UAE has the second highest after its much larger neighbour Saudi Arabia, which has recorded 2,932 infections.
Saudi Arabia has imposed a 24-hour curfew in major cities including the capital Riyadh. Dubai emirate, the region’s business hub, has imposed a full curfew and closed off the Al Ras district where many migrant workers live and work.
Authorities in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi and in Dubai emirate are using hotels to monitor people with minor cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
UAE federal, Abu Dhabi government and Dubai government media offices have not responded to Reuters requests for comment. (Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Alexander Cornwell, Dahlia Nehme, Alaa Swilam and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Mark Heinrich)
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