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Oman isolates textile market over coronavirus, Dubai curbs movement permits

DUBAI (Reuters) - Oman locked down a textile market in a town popular with tourists over coronavirus fears and Dubai emirate restricted curfew movement permits on Thursday as the number of reported infections in the Gulf region rose with increased testing.

General view of a deserted street during the lockdown to counter the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Dubai, United Arab Emirates April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Gulf Arab states have registered an increase in cases among low-wage migrant workers in overcrowded housing despite measures to combat the disease, including halting passenger flights, imposing curfews and closing most public venues.

Dubai, which had extended a UAE-wide nightly curfew into a 24-hour one, reduced the issuance of permits for essential movement. Dubai police said permits for grocery shopping would only be issued once every three days and those for medical visits would be granted for emergencies only.

The six Gulf Arab states have recorded more than 20,000 cases and over 130 deaths from the COVID-19 lung disease caused by the coronavirus. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have the largest infection counts.

Oman’s health minister said a textile market in the Southeastern governorate town of Jalan Bani Bu Ali, home to historic watchtowers and a fort, would be isolated until further notice.

The sultanate earlier this month closed off Muscat governorate, which includes the capital, after locking down the town of Muttrah, which has one of Oman’s oldest souls, due to the spread of infection among foreign workers.

Millions of migrant workers, mostly from Asia, make up the backbone of Gulf economies and work in sectors that have been hit by the pandemic. Some governments are trying to arrange repatriation flights for jobless foreign workers or those whose residencies have expired and will not be renewed. [L5N2C30JL]

The UAE capital Abu Dhabi said on Thursday it had set up free coronavirus testing clinics in the industrial area of Mussafah, where many low-income workers live and work. “Testing will be available to everyone, including those who do not have a valid residence visa,” the government media office tweeted.

Other Gulf states have also urged expatriate labourers to avail themselves of free testing clinics.

In Kuwait, state-owned Kuwait National Petroleum Co said it was establishing centres that could shelter up to 7,000 “marginalised” foreign workers.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have said they will use shuttered schools to rehouse expat workers from cramped quarters.

Several states have boosted capacity to handle any surge in COVID-19 cases. Dubai set up a 3,000-bed field hospital in its World Trade Centre. Bahrain converted the multi-storey car park of a military hospital into a 130-bed intensive care unit.

Reporting by Alaa Swilam and Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich