The View from Kuwait …

March 18, 2020 9:50 a.m.
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From a TPM Reader in Kuwait …

As an American living in Kuwait, I’ve been impressed since the beginning of this crisis by how Kuwait is handling it – and they started taking measures weeks ago – but the contrast with the US (and UK) is stark. (I have two sons in the UK, and I wish they could get back here because they’d be much safer. Every British person I know here has stories of friends and relatives who have symptoms, and in some cases know they’ve been exposed, but can’t get treated or tested. And they’re being contacted by the schools threatening punishment if they don’t send their children to school.)

Anyway, I keep seeing warning from Italians saying, “This is what will happen if you don’t act now,” and I just want to mention our experience. This is how it could be if you DID act appropriately. So far, Kuwait has been able to ‘flatten the curve’.

At the end of February, there were scheduled holidays for the National Day and Liberation Day, and that was around the time they started taking this seriously. They cancelled the National Day celebrations. Then, during these public holidays, they decided to close the schools for the next two weeks. (They have since extended that closure.)

They began quarantining people coming from Iran – first in a hotel, and then they emptied out a beach resort and quarantining people there. See this clip of a Kuwaiti woman in quarantine, waving to her children across the water. (The officer brings her a bottle of water.)

For the first couple of weeks, virtually all the cases had come from Iran. (Iran also has many more cases than they admitted; they refused to close the Shia pilgrimage sites and lied about the numbers.) I don’t remember the details, but Kuwait stopped flights coming from Iran and just sent planes to bring back Kuwaitis who wanted to come – and they went in buses from the airport to the quarantine sites. Hundreds of these have recently been released from quarantine. Next it was people coming from Egypt and Azerbaijan who made up most of the new cases, but for about the past week, almost all of them have been people coming back from the UK (and a couple from Spain, one from Switzerland…)

In the meantime, they cancelled flights from more countries, and last Friday, they closed the airport altogether. They also gradually increased the businesses that were closed, starting with wedding halls, cinemas, etc… to the point where now it’s basically food stores, pharmacies, and restaurants for takeout or delivery. They’re not letting people gather anywhere, and when people did downtown last Friday (probably families’ drivers on their day off), they used drones to ask them to go back home. (I saw that also done in Spain later.)

Right at the beginning, the Minister of Commerce himself was shown shutting down pharmacies that were raising the prices of face masks, and that video went viral as a warning to others. They publicized the number to call to report any attempt at price gouging, and we’ve seen videos of a few other stores shut down.

The government has warned against spreading rumors, but they’ve also been very transparent. The Ministry of Health holds a press conference every morning, and they are using social media to spread videos and news reports; they’re also trying to quickly refuting false rumors. They set up a new website with numbers of cases, critical cases, people in quarantine, people recovered, etc.

From the beginning, everyone knew where to go if they suspected they had the virus: Entrance 5 of a certain hospital (or they could call the emergency number).

There was only one panic. One night last week, a rumor spread that there would be a curfew imposed, and people panicked and rushed to the supermarkets. The neighborhood co-ops, Kuwait Flour Mills, and the Ministry of Commerce all made it clear that there was plenty of food and supplies (with videos showing some of the warehouses), and by the next day, things were calm again.

They took over a fairgrounds and set up testing centers for anyone who had come in the country in the week before the airport was closed., so they are all being tested now. (

So they’re doing it step by step, in an organized way, and I assume following WHO protocols (and sometimes being even stricter, I think). There are many Kuwaitis (including students) who want to come back from overseas, and I assume they’ll do that gradually so that the quarantine sites, testing centers, and medical sites don’t get overwhelmed.

I don’t understand why the US government (and media, to some extent) is treating this as something that’s entirely new and that no one else has dealt with. There is a lot of experience – positive and negative – in countries all over the world. But I know that the idea of American exceptionalism prevents some people from looking around and learning from others (which I guess explains why they decided to make their own tests when they finally started to address this).

I also get tired of the attitude that pitching in to help others is a uniquely American trait. It’s fine to highlight and praise people who sacrifice to help others – just don’t pretend that no one else in the world does that! Individuals and companies have donated large sums to a government fund here and offered their facilities, trucks, employees, etc. to the government for its needs, and individuals are helpign in various ways. Landlords have said tenants didn’;t have to pay rent for now, and I saw a picture of a food parcel that one landlord left for each of his tenants.
Watching the US have to deal with problems like kids who won’t get a decent meal if school is closed, people who will go to work and make others sick because they don’t have sick leave, people who won’t get tests because they can’t pay for it, people crammed into airports for hours trying to get processed… Other countries aren’t impressed when those problems are solved – because what kind of a country would have those problems to begin with? (Then there are the lines at gun shops and stores being sold out of ammo… that doesn’t happen elsewhere, as far as I know.)

Thanks for reading, and please excuse any typos because I wrote this quickly, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of points…

Key Coronavirus Crisis Links

Josh Marshall’s Twitter List of Trusted Experts (Epidemiologists, Researchers, Clinicians, Journalists, Government Agencies) providing reliable real-time information on the COVID-19 Crisis.

COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).

IHME Projections Site (COVID-19 epidemic model which has become the canonical model for many states and hospitals.)

Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world). (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).

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