Coronavirus: Over 600 expats repatriated from Kuwait

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Kuwait Interior Ministry has announced that 611 expats have been repatriated to their native country.

The expats included 342 Egyptians and 254 Filipinos, all over left in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition, Kuwait flew 306 citizens back to the country on board three planes coming from Lebanon, Egypt and Bahrain as part of a plan to bring back citizens from coronavirus-affected countries.

The ministry said 195 Kuwaitis came from Egypt, 74 from Lebanon and 37 from Bahrain. They were all tested in airport facilities specially installed for this purpose and then taken to compulsory quarantine, according to Kuwait news agency KUNA.


Nine expats arrested in Kuwait for breaking coronavirus curfew

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Kuwait arrested nine expatriates on Monday for violating the country’s newly implemented curfew.

In a statement, the Ministry of Interior’s public relations and security media department, said the nine, who were caught in the Farwaniyah area, will be deported immediately.

The curfew was called on Sunday, ordering citizens to stay indoors between 5pm and 4am, as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The statement said: “The security services tolerate no breach of the rules of the partial nationwide curfew.”

Authorities previously said anyone caught breaking the curfew in Kuwait will be jailed for up to three years and fined $32,000.

It has been revealed that, during the curfew hours, staff from Kuwait Fire Service Directorate (KFSD) will be using 170 vehicles to deliver medicines.

There are currently 189 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Kuwait.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education has announced that resident teachers and ministry staff can travel back to their home countries without needing a leave permit.

In terms of resident teachers and staff whose residency visa expires while abroad, the ministry said that efforts will be coordinated with Kuwaiti diplomatic missions to allow them to travel back to Kuwait.


Kuwait’s wealth fund on standby as oil price, virus hit finances

Kuwait’s government has discussed the possibility of turning to the sovereign wealth fund for a loan should the oil-price slump and the mounting cost of fighting the coronavirus pandemic deplete its cash reserves.

The option of a loan or investment by the Future Generations Fund is one of several available as a way to boost the Gulf nation’s finances during a difficult time, according to a person familiar with the matter. The fund is managed by Kuwait Investment Authority.

Kuwait has agreed a stimulus package to protect jobs and stabilise food prices during the pandemic but the Gulf nation, which relies on oil exports for most of its revenues, is being badly hit by the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, while wrangling in parliament holds up a draft debt law that would allow the government to issue bonds internationally. That leaves the government facing a budget shortfall that needs to be financed.

Turning to the fund would be a highly unusual measure for Kuwait. The government set a precedent in 1990 when it drew on the rainy day reserve during the Iraqi invasion to pay for the war and subsequent rebuilding.

The KIA would have to ensure profitable terms for the loan, perhaps by charging above market-rate interest, the person said, asking not to be named because the information is confidential. Repayments would begin once economic conditions improve. KIA and other government officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Estimates for how long the treasury can cover its expenses have ranged from three to 12 months, depending on the severity of the downturn and on how long oil prices remain depressed. Wages and salaries account for more than 70% of government spending and the shortfall has raised questions about how long public sector workers can expect to be paid.

No written recommendations for a loan from the Future Generations Fund have yet been made to KIA’s board, the person said. Another option is for the Treasury to “recapture” a portion of the funds it allocated to the Future Generations Fund from state revenues between 2012 and 2015, according to the person.

By law, 10% of state revenue is annually transferred into the Future Generations Fund, which invests abroad and has adequate liquidity to meet any requirements. Though a withdrawal from the fund would require a law, a loan or investment would not.


Kuwait announces 78 more cases of coronavirus

Kuwait’s Ministry of Health has detected an additional 78 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country over the last 24 hours, it was announced on Tuesday.

According to the Ministry, the total confirmed number of coronavirus cases in Kuwait now stands at 743.

Kuwait’s state-run KUNA news agency has quoted Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Abdullah Al Sanad as saying that 23 patients remain in intensive care, including 17 stable cases and six cases in critical condition.

He also said that 673 patients are currently receiving treatment at hospitals, while 911 have completed quarantine.

One death has so far been reported.

On Monday, Kuwait ordered the total lockdown of two districts and extended a public holiday through April 26.

The heavily populated areas of Jleeb Al Shuyoukh and Mahboula, where predominantly expatriate workers live, have been placed in isolation for a two-week period.

Globally, there have been more than 1.3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, including more than 76,000 fatalities and 293,000 recoveries.


Oil producers intend to cut 10-15 mn barrels: Kuwait

Top oil producers meeting later Thursday intend to cut production by between 10 and 15 million barrels per day, Kuwait’s Oil Minister Khaled al-Fadhel reportedly said.

The talks between OPEC and other major producers come as oil languishes at near-two decade lows, with Russia and Saudi Arabia’s price war compounding slack demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Through our continuous consultations in the past weeks, I confirm that the intention is to conclude an agreement to cut production by a large amount ranging between 10 million bpd and 15 million bpd,” Fadhel said in an interview with Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai published Thursday.

He said the aim of the huge reduction is to “restore balance to the market and prevent further drops in the prices.”

OPEC, led by leading exporter Saudi Arabia, and other top producers including Russia will meet via video conference later Thursday amid hopes they will agree to cut output to shore up prices.

Fadhel said negotiations were still continuing to secure the participation of a larger number of major producers such as the United States, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Columbia and Norway.

“There are also very important discussions still ongoing over how to distribute quotas and reductions among the countries,” said the Kuwaiti minister, adding that some progress has been made.

Kuwait, OPEC’s fifth largest producer, boosted its output to over three million bpd amid a price war that sent prices crashing.

Fadhel said he was optimistic about striking a new deal to counter a sharp drop in demand, estimated by some studies at as high as 25 million bpd, or a quarter of global supplies.

Oil prices extended gains Thursday after Russia, the world’s second producer, signalled it was ready to make a big output cut at the OPEC+ meeting.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate rose 4.6 percent to $26.26 a barrel, while Brent crude, the international benchmark, jumped 2.7 percent to $33.73.

Moscow said Wednesday it is willing to cut output by about 1.6 million barrels a day, Bloomberg News reported.

Another key meeting takes place on Friday, when G20 energy ministers hold talks remotely to discuss steps to steady the market.


Kuwait to resume outbound flights for expat repatriation

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Airlines have been given the green light to operate outbound flights for expatriates from Kuwait.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced on Saturday that the suspension of flights would be lifted in order to accommodate members of the expat community who wished to return to their native countries.

The country announced a complete shutdown of passenger flights from March 13. Since then, only repatriation and deportation flights have departed, including several by Kuwait Airways, Turkish Airlines and EgyptAir.

A statement on the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) said: “The DGCA will coordinate with airway companies to schedule the flights for expatriates eager to travel back to their respective home countries.”

Meanwhile, a plane belonging to the Indian Air Force, carrying medical supplies to combat coronavirus, arrived in Kuwait on Saturday.

Kuwait recorded a further 161 cases on Saturday, taking the total number to 1,154. The country has registered just one death to date.


Coronavirus: Kuwait reports second death as confirmed cases reach 1,300

A second person in Kuwait has died of coronavirus and 66 new cases have been reported in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 1,300.

Kuwaiti Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr. Abdullah Al-Sanad said that 26 patients were currently in intensive care.

According to a report on the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), there are currently 1,148 people receiving hospital treatment, while 746 individuals have completed the quarantine period.

It comes as authorities in the Al Ahmadi Municipality in Kuwait revealed 155 stores have been closed for failing to abide by strict guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Ahmadi Governance deputy director for Municipality Affairs, Fahad Al-Shtaili, said over the past month, inspectors had sent out 674 warnings and warrants to shop owners and issued 235 violations, including a formal closure order to 20 stores.

He added that the municipality has cleaned and sterilised 251,427 containers of different sizes, put 25 stickers on neglected cars, and issued ten violations to street vendors.

Al-Shtaili noted that Al Ahmadi Municipality seized seven mobile groceries stores and removed 210 violating desert camps.


Dubai’s aviation leasing firm mulls deferral requests amid Covid-19 pandemic

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Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) has received over 50 rent deferral requests from airlines around the world amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, 11 of which have been granted, the leasing firm said in a business update.

Outlining its current position, DAE said it sold or novated 15 aircraft and acquired four more during the first quarter of 2020, ending the quarter with approximately $2.8 billion, the company has announced.

DAE said it also extended leases on 8 aircraft over the course of the quarter.

“In these unprecedented times, DAE has positioned itself to operate calmly and to balance the needs of all our important constituents – employees, customers, bondholders and banks and shareholders,” DAE CEO Firoz Tarapore said in a statement.

Tarapore said while available liquidity stands at $2.8 billion, DAE’s liquidity requirements – for bond maturity and capex requirements over the next 12 months – remain “modest” at $430 million.

Disrupted revenue
With many of the company’s customers experiencing disrupted revenue as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, DAE said it continues to “receive requests for assistance in different shapes and sizes, and we evaluate them on a case-by-case basis”.

To date, DAE has granted 11 rent deferral requests, totalling aggregate rent of approximately 2 percent of annual reported revenue.

It is currently evaluating 42 rent deferral requests, totalling aggregate rent of approximately 16 percent of annual reported revenue, totalling aggregate rent of approximately 16 percent of annual reported revenue.

Additionally, DAE has restarted a bond repurchase programme and repurchased approximately $170 million worth of aircraft in Q1 2020.

DAE’s leasing and engineering division in Dubai serves over 125 airline customers from around the globe. Its leasing division has an owned, managed, committed and mandated to manage a fleet of approximately 410 Airbus, ATR and Boeing aircraft worth $15.5 billion.


Coronavirus: Remote working could be a thing of the future, long after Covid-19

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Remote working and virtual collaboration are likely to remain long after the days of lockdowns and once coronavirus is eventually consigned to the history books.

According to Jeff Youssef, partner – Public Sector, at Oliver Wyman, remote working could be adopted more widely in the economic recovery period and even on a sustained basis, as it provides cost efficiencies to businesses in terms of office space and greater time efficiency, removing commuting time.

“These cost benefits will help fundamentally soften the impact of the pandemic on businesses when the economic upturn begins,” he said.

From March 29, government entities moved to a 100 percent remote work system following guidance issued by Dubai Executive Council, while private sector entities must have at least 80 percent of their workforce operating from home.

Youssef added: “When an organisation wants to tackle a complex problem or have an important discussion, the default is to get the relevant people together in the same room. The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has fundamentally challenged this way of working, from companies imposing travel restrictions on their employees or limiting the size of meetings, to workers self-isolating after returning from affected regions.”

However, while the benefits of remote working are obvious, and there is very little choice at the moment on whether to work from home or not, there are concerns over potential isolation and resultant mental health issues.

Nuno Gomes, head of career at Mercer MENAT, told Arabian Business: “Although working from home allows for employees to spend more time with their families, it often becomes difficult to differentiate between working hours and personal time when an employee is spending the entire day in the same location.

“For those who live alone, feelings of isolation may arise – often times resulting in reduced creativity and disengagement from the wider team.”

As a result, she believes most will welcome a return to the office, when allowed to do so.

“The human touch is still vital to many businesses and functions, particularly in the Middle East, which is why I do not see this becoming the norm.

“There will be an increased appreciation for the merits and benefits of remote working, augmenting the effectiveness of humans at work. However, it will not completely replace the need and efficiency of human interaction. The future is human, digitally empowered.”


NMC lenders tally losses as ADCB taps Lazard to recover funds

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UAE Exchange, set up by the founder of the embattled hospital operator, defaulted on a loan of about $300 million, to a group that includes Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays Plc and Commercial Bank of Dubai PSC, according to people familiar with the matter. At the same time, it emerged that Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank PJSC hired Lazard Ltd. to advise on its more than $1 billion of exposure to the Abu Dhabi-based company.

Underscoring the cash crunch, NMC is braving the market mayhem triggered by the coronavirus pandemic to sell its distribution business, people familiar with the matter said. NMC is seeking as much as $300 million for the unit, they said.

London-listed NMC, founded by Indian entrepreneur Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, has seen its stock plunge before it was suspended from trading amid allegations of fraud.

Its chairman and chief financial officer have resigned since the company revealed more than $4 billion of undisclosed debt, and the company has lost its elite status as a member of the FTSE 100 index.

With a market value of $2.4 billion and total debt of $6.6 billion, NMC and its founder face an investigation by U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority.

‘Worst time ever’

“The amounts of billions of dollars at times like these are inexcusable especially if they were used for personal loans instead of being used by the business,” said Mohammed Ali Yasin, chief strategy officer at Al Dhabi Capital Ltd. in Abu Dhabi. “What was disclosed about the debt, undeclared debt of NMC by the majority shareholders is really coming at the worst time ever. At a time of this health crisis, a company like NMC and other hospitals should be blossoming and growing in value.”

NMC started unraveling in December, when short seller Muddy Waters Capital LLC alleged it had overpaid for assets, inflated cash balances and understated debt. The company uncovered evidence of suspected fraud and debt that had been used for unknown purposes. The shares have been suspended since February.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank is seeking to recover some of the funds the state-owned lender provided to NMC and financial services firm Finablr Plc, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday. Representatives for Lazard and ADCB declined to comment.

The bank’s potential $1 billion exposure could wipe out 80% of its estimated profit for 2020 in a worst-case scenario, Citigroup Inc. analysts Rahul Bajaj and Ronit Ghose said in a note on Wednesday. Shares extended losses to the fifth consecutive session. They have dropped the maximum allowed 5% in the past four trading days, and are down 44% this year.

‘Big headache’
Besides Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, other lenders include HSBC Holdings Plc, JPMorgan and Standard Chartered Plc, the people said. Some of the lenders are in talks to set up a committee to discuss ways to recover funds from NMC, according to the people. Representatives for the banks declined to comment.

“The expected write down on NMC will be a big headache for the commercial banks, which lent to them in large volumes, given that they will be negatively impacted by the fallout from lower oil prices,” said Richard Segal, a senior analyst at Manulife Investment in London. “Anecdotal evidence suggests they are also being pressed to extend new credits to priority sectors to relieve the burden on taxpayers.”

Branching out
After establishing NMC, Shetty branched out into financial services, with those interests now rolled into London-listed Finablr. Problems there led to its UAE Exchange unit to default on a foreign-exchange loan of about $300 million, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company, founded in 1980, became one of the largest remittance operators in the Middle East by mainly catering to Indian expatriate workers in the Gulf.

The United Arab Emirates central bank last month said it is overseeing the UAE Exchange’s operations as Finablr, also the owner of foreign-exchange businesses including Travelex Holdings Ltd., prepares for potential insolvency. The firm has warned that its board couldn’t accurately assess its financial situation and its chief executive officer and chief financial officer have stepped down.

A representative for Finablr referred queries to the UAE central bank, which didn’t immediately respond to emailed queries. Representatives for Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan declined to comment, while representatives for Commercial Bank of Dubai and Shetty didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trading unit
With cash holdings dwindling, NMC is working with an adviser to gauge buyer interest in its NMC Trading unit, according to the people. NMC Trading distributes products including Nestle SA food and beverages, Pfizer Inc. medicine and Unilever Plc personal-care products across the United Arab Emirates.

Deliberations are at an early stage, and there’s no certainty they will result in a transaction, the people said. A representative for NMC declined to comment.