No coronavirus cases reported in the Middle East, say officials

A man wearing two face masks travels in the subway, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China January 26, 2020. (Reuters)
Updated 27 January 2020

No coronavirus cases reported in the Middle East, say officials

  • GCC airports introduce thermal screening of passengers arriving from countries where infections have been reported
  • Close to 2,000 cases have been confirmed in China and 10 other countries, with 55 deaths reported so far

DUBAI: A coronavirus outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least 55 people in China and 10 other countries has not spread to the Middle East, according to government officials.

Although no cases have been detected in any of the GCC countries, governments are taking preventive measures, including mandatory screenings for passengers arriving from cities where infections have been reported.

Scientists have identified the new coronavirus strain as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Officials have said passengers arriving from China will be screened for infections as a precautionary measure.

Like other coronaviruses, 2019-nCoV originated in animals but had not been identified in humans until the outbreak in Wuhan, in central China.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

As of Sunday, close to 2,000 2019-nCoV cases had been detected globally, with Canada confirming its first patient and Portugal declaring a “suspected” case of infection.

The outbreak in China came at a time where close to three billion trips were due to be made across the country – the “world’s largest annual human migration” - over a 15-day period, marking the occasion of the Lunar New Year on January 25.

On Sunday, Tawfiq Al-Rabiah, the Saudi Minister of Health, said steps to limit the spread of coronavirus were already in place, adding: “No cases of infection with the new coronavirus have been recorded in the Kingdom yet.”

Separately, Saudi Arabia’s National Center for Disease Prevention and Control (NCDC) has prepared a health guide to deal with suspected cases.

It has provided laboratory tests, set up a mechanism for collecting and transferring sample to its national laboratory and issued advice to passengers going to areas where the disease has appeared.

The Ministry of Health is coordinating with the country’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and has advised those traveling to affected cities to avoid visiting any local markets where livestock is on display or products derived from animals are sold.

The ministry has said it is closely monitoring the epidemiological situation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other available sources.

In another development, the Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Saudi CDC) debunked what it called infection rumors surrounding an Indian nurse working in a hospital in the Kingdom.

Saudi CDC confirmed via Twitter that no 2019-nCoV cases had been detected in the Kingdom, adding that new MERS infections had been reported by the Health Ministry, including three healthcare workers in Abha, in Asir region.

Separately, the UAE’s Health Ministry said on Sunday that no 2019-nCoV case has been reported in the country.

Nevertheless, thermal screening of passengers arriving from China has been introduced in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports to ensure the health and safety of travelers and residents in the country.

Airport authorities are said to be fully complying with the directive issued by the UAE’s Civil Aviation Authority, and also distributing informative booklets to travelers on the nature of the new virus and its symptoms.

Etihad Airways has also issued a circular waving fees for rebooking and cancelation of tickets to and from mainland China.

“Etihad Airways is closely monitoring the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China and coordinating its response with airport and health authorities in Abu Dhabi,” a statement issued by the carrier said.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi said it “can assure the community that, to date, no patients have been diagnosed with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)," noting that “there are numerous forms of coronaviruses, including more prevalent human coronaviruses, and the majority of these are not considered public health risks.”

Two other GCC countries, Kuwait and Qatar, have begun screening passengers arriving from destinations where coronavirus infections have been reported.

In a statement, Kuwait’s Ministry of Health said: “Airport’s clinics and isolation rooms are well-equipped and thermal cameras have been added to border crossings.”

Infection with 2019-nCoV, which mimics symptoms similar to the common cold, can evolve to pneumonia.

However, medical experts believe the 2019-nCoV is less severe, contagious and deadly than the SARS virus, which first emerged in November 2002 and was contained by July 2003.

The SARS outbreak resulted in 8,098 infection cases and 774 deaths in 17 countries. Both SARS and MERS have no known cure as of today.


Saudi Aramco attack drone components linked to Iran and Houthis in Yemen

Updated 19 February 2020

Saudi Aramco attack drone components linked to Iran and Houthis in Yemen

  • Report: Iranian components make militia’s attacks more lethal
  • Research found matching components either originated in Iran or are linked to Tehran supply network

LONDON: A report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) has linked the drones that targeted Saudi oilfields in September and Houthi drones in Yemen to Iranian drones recovered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Analysis from CAR linked the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) through a small instrument found in both devices.

The report, titled “Evolution of UAVs employed by Houthi forces in Yemen,” is based on field investigations by CAR teams that carried out physical analysis on nine UAVs and one engine recovered by the UAE’s Presidential Guard forces.

They were compared with Houthi bombs seized from the Iran-backed militia in Yemen and militants in Bahrain, as well as two varieties of Iranian UAVs.

By comparing the recovered items, CAR discovered that a significant number of Houthi UAV components were identical or similar to improvised explosive device (IED) parts recovered in Yemen.

The report finds that matching components either originated in Iran or are linked to Tehran-backed supply networks active in the region.

Investigators also found that Houthi UAVs had components that were identical to Iranian-manufactured equipment.

CAR found a gyroscope in a Houthi drone that shared an almost-exact serial number to a gyroscope recovered from an Iranian-made UAV picked up by Daesh militants.

In this February 2017 photograph provided by Conflict Armament Research, a gyroscope recovered from a Qasef-1 drone is displayed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Such gyroscopes, a small instrument within drones that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry and those in the arsenal of Yemen's Houthi rebels, match components recovered in downed Iranian drones in Afghanistan and Iraq, two reports said. (AP/ File photo)

The gyroscopes are believed to be the same make as those found on drones that attacked Saudi Aramco oilfields.

A UN Security Council resolution prohibits arms transfers to the Houthis. Arab News contacted Iran’s mission to the UN for comment, but it did not respond.

A materiel and personnel exploitation expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arab News that CAR’s findings make it “almost certain that Iran was involved in the attack on Saudi oilfields.”

The expert added: “CAR’s work is similar to counterterror bomb analysis. Governments use these techniques to find the source of a threat and neutralize it. It’s highly reliable and very rarely produces false links.”

Jonah Leff, CAR’s director of operations, said the increased sophistication of drones deployed by the Houthis allowed them to use UAVs “over longer distances and with greater explosive payloads.”

He added that analysis of Houthi drone components and other lethal items points to Iran as the “likely benefactor in their supply.”

UN: Houthis impeding humanitarian aid

Meanwhile, the US has threatened to cut aid to Houthi-held areas in Yemen amid UN claims that the militia is impeding the supply of medicines and food.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal that the Houthis are only granting access to the UN on condition of a range of measures that aid agencies are rejecting because it would give the militia the ability to choose who gives aid, which could be exploited for terrorism.

A senior UN official said on condition of anonymity that the Houthis’ obstruction has hindered several programs that feed the near-starving population and protect displaced Yemenis.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have blocked half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs in the war-torn country — a strong-arm tactic to force the agency to give them greater control over the massive humanitarian campaign, along with a cut of billions of dollars in foreign assistance. (AP)

Nutritional supplements have been denied to nearly 300,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children aged 5 or under for six months.

Another UN official said this was because the Houthis “held beneficiaries hostage” to a demand that the UN gives the militia a 2 percent cut of its aid package.

On Tuesday, Washington’s envoy to the UN said the Houthis’ attempt to tax the UN and hinder aid projects could see the US cancel its funding to Sanaa and northern areas under the militia’s control.

Washington is “extremely concerned by mounting Houthi interference with the work of aid partners in northern Yemen, which limits the ability of the UN and other humanitarian organizations to deliver assistance to the most vulnerable Yemenis,” Kelly Craft said.