Monday, May 11, 2020

COVID-19 Announcements by the Omani Government

Last updated: 27 April 2020

The below table sets out the decisions issued by the Supreme Committee and other branches of the Omani Government addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The table will be updated on a monthly basis to include all key developments.

Updates Topic
(1) General
(2) Private Sector
(3) Public Sector
(4) Annual General Meetings

COVID-19 Updates: General Developments (1)
Date Updates
22 April 2020 The Central Bank of Oman (CBO) issued a circular addressing all banks and finance leasing companies to defer loan instalments by the low-income Omani workforce. This shall be effective for a period of three months from the date the loan is postponed and this will be implemented from May 2020 until further notice.

The repayment of the loans shall be with no interest or any additional fees; also, if seen necessary, the entities must reschedule the loans.
20 April 2020 The COVID-19 Supreme Committee held that Ramadhan gatherings are prohibited, and also emphasised that Taraweeh shall not take place at the mosques. Also, the lockdown on Muscat was extended until 10 am on 8 May 2020.
11 April 2020 The Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) has instructed commercial centres to adhere to the necessary preventive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. MOCI further stated that there must be a distance of two metres at all counters and that all surfaces and trolleys must be sanitised. Legal action shall be taken if found in violation.
8 April 2020 The Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) requested that landlords and the owners of commercial centres take into consideration the impact on their tenants during the ongoing spread of COVID-19. OCCI suggested that this takes place through exemptions, postponement of payments or reduction in rent.

Pursuant to the decisions of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee, Muscat shall be in lockdown from 10 am on 10 April 2020 until 10 am on 22 April 2020. Also, control checkpoints have been put in place to ensure compliance with the lockdown in Muscat.
2 April 2020 The COVID-19 Supreme Committee has stated that Muttrah shall be in lockdown from 2 April 2020.
31 March 2020 After the Royal Oman Police suspended renewal services, the Capital Market Authority (CMA) has requested that insurance companies provide coverage for vehicles with expired licenses until the end of the spread of COVID-19. Also, CMA has instructed that insurance is provided in case of traffic accidents, despite license expiration.

The Tax Institution undertook several procedures in order to mitigate the financial position of tax-governed entities during the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • Disclosures and tax may be submitted/paid within a period not exceeding three months.
  • Tax may be paid in instalments.
  • The additional 1% of tax in the Tax Law will be waived.
  • In case of objections against modifications by the taxpayer, the objection must take place within a period of 45 days from the date of notification.
  • An additional grace period may be requested by the taxpayer for the submission of documents/clarification.
29 March 2020 During a meeting of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee, it was held that the suspension of all domestic and international flights shall take effect from 29 March 2020 (with the exception of air cargo and Musandam).
24 March 2020 The Ministry of Manpower (MoM) urged companies/establishments not to request that employees who are quarantined go to the workplace as legal action may be taken against them.
23 March 2020 The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority announced that it will allow the use of Skype, Voice Over Internet, Google Meet and Zoom in the Sultanate of Oman.
19 March 2020 The Financial Affairs and Energy Resources Council approved the following:
  • Budget cuts of 5% by ministries, the military and security units, which must be adhered to by the entities.
  • Revision of general spending articles in order to further minimise expenditure.
18 March 2020 The COVID-19 Supreme Committee held a meeting and took the following decisions, to be effective from 18 March 2020:
  • Banning entry to Oman through land, air and sea to Omani nationals only.
  • Omanis are currently suspended from leaving Oman.
  • Closure of all mosques (except for the Athaan).
  • Closure of all non-Muslim worship areas.
  • Suspension of all gatherings, conferences and activities.
  • Closure of all tourist sites.
  • Prohibition of assembling in public areas (including beaches, wadis, mountains, water springs, waterfalls and parks).
  • Closure of all shops in malls (except for those supplying food, pharmacies and optics).
  • Closure of traditional souq/markets (Muttrah, Nizwa, Al Rustaq, Sinaw).
  • Suspension of all weekly fairs/markets.
  • Hotels, restaurants and cafes are prohibited from serving food with the exception of take-aways.
  • Closure of all sports facilities, sports halls, sports courts, health clubs, barbers and salons for both men and women.
CBO issued incentive measures that include accepting deferment requests regarding loan instalments/profit/interest, particularly SMEs, for a period of six months.
17 March 2020 The Competition Protection and Monopoly Prevention Centre has advised all parties against the exploitation of the current global pandemic. The Centre has warned parties that The Law on Protection of Competition and Prevention of Monopoly shall be applied against offenders that are found to be increasing the prices of products that are high in demand as a means of exploitation. Legal action shall be taken through liaising with the relevant regulatory departments.
15 March 2020 The Public Authority for Consumer Protection (PACP) has reaffirmed that it is monitoring and regulating the markets all over Oman. PACP has formed teams in order to regulate the potential increase in prices by suppliers and to ensure the availability of supplies with standard prices.

PACP stated that legal action shall be taken against those that are exploiting the spread of the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 Supreme Committee held a meeting and took the following decisions, to be effective from 17 March 2020:

  • All non-Omanis are banned from entering Oman through land, sea and air, except GCC citizens.
  • Quarantine shall be imposed on all passengers arriving in Oman through land, sea or air (including Omanis).
  • Closure of all parks and play areas.
  • Suspension of Friday prayers.
  • Prohibition of all social gatherings (including weddings and funerals).

12 March 2020 The COVID-19 Supreme Committee was formed by orders from His Majesty and held its first meeting on 12 March 2020. During the meeting, the COVID-19 Supreme Committee took several decisions, to be applied for a period of 30 days:
  1. Stop the issuance of tourist visas.
  2. Suspension of all sports activities.
  3. Prohibition of all external student activities.
  4. Suspension of the entry of all cruise liners in Omani ports.
  5. Court sessions are limited to the concerned parties only.
  6. Banning of shisha at all outlets.
  7. The Committee recommends that travel abroad is limited to cases of emergency.
  8. Preventive measures must be implemented at gatherings and places of worship.
  9. The Committee recommends not going to the cinema frequently.

COVID-19 Updates: Private Sector (2)
Date Updates
15 April 2020 A package of incentives has been announced in order to provide support to the private sector to enhance its ability to adjust to the conditions imposed as a result of COVID-19.
  • Private sector establishments are not permitted to terminate the Omani workforce and must maintain their stability.
  • The private sector is required to reconstruct their systems to enable them to function during the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Use of technology is urged as it allows employees to work remotely.
  • Safety measures must be taken to ensure that there is enough space between the employees at the workplace.
  • Employees that are quarantined are entitled to their salaries, as long as they provide a certificate for the end of their quarantine.
  • Private sector establishments that have shut down as a result of COVID-19 may offer advanced annual paid leave for the workers.
  • Companies in the private sector that have been affected by COVID-19 may negotiate a reduction in the salaries of employees for a period of three months in exchange for reduced working hours; this is applicable after an employee’s outstanding paid leave has been exhausted.
  • For companies in the private sector that have shut down as a result of COVID-19, the company is entitled to grant annual paid leave to the workers, to be implemented from May 2020, if seen necessary.
  • For the Omani workforce facing a reduction in their salaries, their bank and financing loans shall be postponed, the loans are to be paid back after rescheduling, and will be paid back with no interest or additional fees; also, their water and electricity bills shall be postponed until June 2020.
Non-Omani Workers
  • In relation to the non-Omani workforce, the private sector may terminate contracts with non-Omani workers if the company has been affected by COVID-19 and provided that the company adheres to all its payments due to the employees prior to their departure from Oman.
  • If the establishment has shut down, the employee’s annual leave may be paid in full advance.
Incentives Offered by the Government to the Private Sector:
  • There will be a reduction in the renewal fees of labour cards from OMR 301 to OMR 201 for expatriate workers.
  • Fees and delayed fines shall be exempt.
  • Extension of MoM expat licenses.
  • Temporary approval and provision of preliminary work permits to expats.
  • In case of an emergency, secondment of workers from the private sector for another entity may take place.
MOCI Incentives for the Private Sector:
  • MOCI is offering exemptions for the payment of fees for the renewal of Commercial Registrations from 15 April 2020 until late June 2020.
  • MOCI has also stated that public sector companies shall abide by their contracts with the private sector in the field of services.
  • SMEs that have been affected by COVID-19 may pay water and electricity bills in instalments or postpone payments for a period of three months.
  • Exemptions shall be provided for the renewal fees of licenses and fines for a three-month period for governmental units.
  • Exemptions and flexibility measures shall be offered to government projects that have been completed.
  • The Public Authority for Social Insurance shall postpone subscription fees for the months of March, April and May. These may be paid in instalments.
Water and Power Sector:
  • For establishments in the private sector that have been affected by COVID-19, they may postpone the payment for water and electricity for a period of three months.
  • SMEs may pay in instalments.
  • Workers facing a reduction in their salaries shall be given National Fuel Subsidy Cards.
1 April 2020 MoM has stated that establishments in the private sector are required to take the steps they see necessary in order to decrease the number of employees at the workplace to the minimum, without impacting business performance.
31 March 2020 The private sector establishments are required to decrease the number of employees to a minimum and should also put in place necessary preventative measures. These measures take effect from 1 April 2020.
24 March 2020 MoM has requested that companies in the private sector inform their employees to not go out during holidays and weekends and to stay home. The employees must be told in all applicable languages to avoid any language barriers. MoM stressed that all labour gatherings shall face legal action.

COVID-19 Updates: Public Sector (3)
31 March 2020 The COVID-19 Supreme Committee held that for those working in the public sector, employees are not required to go to the office and should work remotely except for employees whose nature of works requires their physical presence.
The heads of governmental departments/units are required to ensure that standard procedures are not impacted by the downsizing of workforce and must also put in place necessary preventive measures.

The above is enforced from 1 April 2020.
23 March 2020 The COVID-19 Supreme Committee has taken a decision to limit the number of employees in the public sector to only 30%, enough to provide their services and for the remaining employees to work remotely.

COVID-19 Updates: Annual General Meetings (4)
26 April 2020 The Muscat Clearing Depository (MCD) issued Circular 2/20200F detailing the user manual for electronic AGM-EGM management services for public joint stock companies and investment funds; EAGM.
20 April 2020 The CMA has announced that annual general meetings of SAOGs and investment funds shall be resumed through an electronic portal of MCD. The rules include the following:
  • Attendance and voting shall take place through an electronic portal.
  • MCD shall administer the electronic portal and will send the agenda to the shareholders.
  • Board of director nomination forms shall be submitted five days before the date of the meeting.
  • For an elected board member, the company shall be required to provide his CV through the Muscat Securities Market (MSM) website three days before the date of the meeting.
  • Shareholders are entitled to vote through the electronic portal three days before the date of the meeting.
  • All voting shall remain confidential until the meeting.
  • Authorisation of the shareholder may be cancelled only 24 hours prior to starting the meeting.
  • Quorum: this will be counted when the shareholder activates the general meeting’s page when the meeting begins. Also, those who have voted during the three days prior to the date of the meeting shall be included in the quorum.
  • A time period not exceeding five minutes for voting on each item, except for the items in relation to the election of board directors which shall be given a time period not exceeding ten minutes.
  • Under the current circumstances, the publication of the agenda shall take place ten days prior to the meeting.
  • If there is a reduction in a shareholder’s balance, his voting prior to the meeting shall be void. He may vote again.
  • If a proposal in the agenda is changed, the voting of the shareholder shall remain valid unless the shareholder changes his vote on the day of the meeting.
18 March 2020 CMA issued Circular 3/2020 addressing all public joint stock companies and investment funds to suspend AGMs until further notice. The CMA also issued Circular 4/2020 approving the dividends set out in the agendas to shareholders.
17 March 2020 MOCI extended the time period for Annual General Meetings to take place for Closed Joint Stock Companies (SAOC) until June 2020. In addition, MOCI has announced the suspension of all exhibitions, seminars and conferences until June 2020.
16 March 2020 CMA extended the time period for convening AGMs until 30 April 2020 rather than 30 March 2020. For companies that wish to postpone the convening of the AGM, this must be disclosed on the MSM website.

CMA instructs all public joint stock companies, legal advisors and auditors to adhere to the preventative measures in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during AGMs.

Circular 1/2020 includes a list of the preventive measures that must be taken by the companies that still wish to convene their AGMs, including limiting the attendees of the meetings to stakeholders and shareholders only; providing sanitisers; avoiding handshaking during the meetings; and limiting the time of the meeting. Also, shareholders have been urged to only ask questions that are directly related to the matters discussed at the meeting.