Spike in Coronavirus Infections Pushes the Middle East Past 10,000 Cases

Turkey reports its first case, Lebanon shuts down flights, Bahrain reports more coronavirus cases from Iran evacuees

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A woman wears a mask and gloves, as she checks products at a supermarket as people begin to stock up on provisions, in Beirut, Lebanon, March 11, 2020.
A woman wears a mask and gloves, as she checks products at a supermarket as people begin to stock up on provisions, in Beirut, Lebanon, March 11, 2020.Credit: Hussein Malla,AP

Coronavirus infections climbed in Middle Eastern countries on Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the total in the region past 10,000 cases, as countries took new measures to curb the spread of the disease, cancelling flights, events and gatherings.

In Iran, the regional epicenter of the outbreak, the virus has killed 354 people and infected some 9,000 people nationwide. There are concerns that the number of infections across Iran is much higher than the confirmed cases reported by the government, which is struggling to contain or manage its spread. The rising casualty figures each day in Iran suggest the fight against the new coronavirus is far from over.

Multiple top officials in Iran — from its senior vice president to Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members, health workers and health ministry officials — have contracted the virus. Some of those officials have died.

Turkey, Egypt safeguard tourism

Turkey reported its first confirmed coronavirus case Wednesday after a Turkish man was diagnosed and quarantined. The country had previously managed to avoid the virus' spread. 

Turkey’s tourism sector, which accounts for about 13% of its economy, stepped up calls on the government for financial help to deal with the expected negative impact of the outbreak.

Egypt confirmed 67 cases Wednesday, 45 of which were detected on a River Nile cruise ship in the popular tourist destination of Luxor, and a German tourist who died in a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada.

Twenty-seven people of the registered cases have recovered and eight of them were released from a quarantine hospital, including six Egyptians and two foreigners, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Lebanon, which has registered 68 cases and three fatalities as of Thursday, said Wednesday that it will halt all travel to and from Italy, South Korea, China and Iran. The country is giving nationals four days to return from other virus-hit countries before a more sweeping shutdown of flights would take effect. The country is also closing public venues such as malls and restaurants, and banning public gatherings.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Lebanon was also banning entry of passengers from France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Spain, Britain, and Germany. He said that Lebanese nationals, diplomats accredited in Lebanon, residents and NGO workers would have four days to return from these countries before flights to and from them would also be halted. 

Gulf states announce new measures

All Gulf Arab states, meanwhile, have recorded infections but no deaths.

Qatar reported 238 more coronavirus infections among individuals under quarantine in a residential compound on Wednesday, bringing the country's tally to 262.

Bahrain, which now has 195 total cases in all, announced 77 new infections among citizens evacuated by plane from Iran, which has emerged as an epicenter for the virus in the Middle East. 

Kuwait, which has 72 confirmed coronavirus cases, announced it would halt all commercial passenger flights starting on Friday and declared a public holiday from March 12 to March 26 except for entities providing essential services.

It banned people from going to restaurants and cafes and asked them to no longer hold Kuwait’s traditional diwaniya private and public gatherings, state news agency KUNA said.

Saudi Arabia, which now has 45 cases of the disease and locked down the oil-producing region of Qatif, said on Wednesday it was closing cinemas until further notice, state news agency SPA reported. Two meetings of G20 economies due to be held in Saudi Arabia have been postponed.

Tracking China’s novel coronavirusCredit: Reuters

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