No shisha pipe sessions, deserted streets, mosques and shopping malls, drones in the sky broadcasting public health warnings — the new coronavirus has turned life upside down in Gulf societies.
More than 800 cases of the COVID-19 have been recorded so far across the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but so far no deaths.
Facing a mounting public health threat, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman have taken drastic measures to combat the pandemic.
Drones in the skies were sounding messages in multiple languages urging people to return to their homes.
Residents in the Omani capital of Muscat told AFP there had been much “fear and panic” over what many of them have termed “Corona phobia” at a time when a small bottle of disinfectant is in almost everyone’s pockets or bags.
They said many people have stopped shaking hands or kissing each other on the cheeks, a common greeting across the Arab world.
In Saudi Arabia, 60-year-old Abu Abdulrahman said he felt awkward about the rapidly changing social norms. “Do I shake hands and kiss or do I not? I don’t know,” he said. “I try not to do that, but I get embarrassed. What if the other person puts their hand out first?”
Meanwhile, both the UAE and Qatar have advised their citizens to stop the traditional “nose to nose” greeting, with Abu Dhabi instructing residents that a wave would suffice.
Measures to combat the spread of the virus have also impacted the way many Muslims in the Gulf worship.
After Saudi Arabia suspended the “umrah” year-round pilgrimage, it advised residents against praying in mosques if they have any symptoms of the virus.
Kuwait banned all mass prayers, an unprecedented move.
“Pray at home, pray at home,” an imam preached.