Coronavirus: Up to three years in prison for not wearing face mask in Qatar

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Leaving your house without a face mask could send you to prison for three years in Qatar, where the government has threatened violators with jail time and a fine of up to $55,000.

Many governments around the world have mandated the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but few have threatened imprisonment for violating the order.

The new policy is evidence that Qatar’s healthcare system is close to collapsing and that the country’s leadership is extremely concerned about the number of coronavirus cases, experts told Al Arabiya English.

The three years in prison penalty for those not wearing masks in public places “indicates the Qatari healthcare system has reached a collapsing point,” according to Bahraini political columnist Abdullah Junaid.

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“The GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] health ministers should be prepared for such eventuality, because its fast approaching,” said Junaid in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Expert Varsha Koduvayur said the “very strict” policy signals Qatar’s level of worry about the exponential growth in coronavirus cases in the country.

Qatar has so far recorded more than 30,000 COVID-19 cases. With its population of about 2.7 million people, the Gulf country has one of the world’s highest per capita number of reported cases.

“This move signals Qatari authorities’ concerns about the sheer number of cases the emirate faces,” said Koduvayur, a senior research analyst at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

“Of course, if Qatar is serious about clamping down on its growing caseload, then allowing World Cup construction to continue against the backdrop of coronavirus seems counterintuitive,” she added.

Qatar has kept construction sites open as it prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, despite implementing a slew of harsh measures to stem the spread of coronavirus and the infection of one of its World Cup ambassadors.

Qatar’s cabinet put its severe legal repercussions into effect on Sunday “until further notice.”

The Gulf country of Kuwait, as well as Morocco, have also warned that people who do not wear face masks in public will face prison – both countries giving a penalty of a three-month maximum jail sentence.

Other Gulf countries have also implemented mandatory face mask orders for people in certain circumstances, with violators facing financial penalties - but no prison time.

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