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.


US announces new sanctions on Iran defense ministry, atomic energy agency

Updated 56 min 25 sec ago

US announces new sanctions on Iran defense ministry, atomic energy agency

  • US adds five Iranian scientists to sanctions list
  • Washington stands ready to respond to future Iranian aggression

WASHINGTON: The United States slapped additional sanctions on Iran on Monday after the Trump administration’s unilateral weekend declaration that all United Nations penalties that were eased under the 2015 nuclear deal had been restored.
The announcement comes in defiance of the world community, which has rejected U..S. legal standing to impose the international sanctions and sets the stage for an ugly showdown at the annual UN General Assembly this week.

“The United States has now restored UN sanctions on Iran,” President Donald Trump said in a statement issued shortly after he signed an executive order spelling out how the US will enforce the “snapback” of the sanctions. “My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran.”

Trump’s administration named 27 people or entities that it said would be subject to UN sanctions, but the world body itself says that the decision is not up to Washington.
Speaking to reporters with fellow Cabinet secretaries at the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then announced the administration was hitting more than two dozen Iranian individuals and institutions with penalties. Nearly all of them, however, including the Iranian defense ministry and its atomic energy agency, were already subject to US sanctions that the administration had re-imposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

Trump’s executive order mainly affects Iranian and foreign entities involved in conventional weapons and ballistic missile activity. A UN arms embargo on Iran is to expire in October under the terms of the nuclear deal, but Pompeo and others insist the snapback has rescinded its termination.
The Trump administration argues that it is enforcing the UN arms embargo that Iran has violated, including through an attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Accompanied by Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Pompeo said the US was acting because the rest of the world is refusing to confront the Iranian threat.

“We have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce the sanctions,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters when asked about European opposition.
“That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany. We will have every expectation that those nations enforce these sanctions,” he said.
“No matter where you are in the world, you will risk sanctions,” he said, warning foreign companies and officials not to do business with targeted Iranian entities.

Craft said, “As we have in the past, we will stand alone to protect peace and security.”
The administration declared on Saturday that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored because Tehran is violating parts of the nuclear deal in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
But few UN member states believe the US has the legal standing to restore the sanctions because Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. The US argues it retains the right to do so as an original participant in the deal and a member of the council.
The remaining world powers in the deal — France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia — have been struggling to offset the sanctions that the US re-imposed on Iran after the Trump administration left the pact, which the president said was one-sided in favor of Tehran.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, said Monday that there is still a broad agreement among the international community that the nuclear pact should be preserved.
At a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Salehi said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, has been “caught in a quasi-stalemate situation” since Trump pulled out in 2015.


While insisting it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, Iran has been steadily breaking restrictions outlined in the deal on the amount of uranium it can enrich, the purity it can enrich it to, and other limitations. At the same time, Iran has far less enriched uranium and lower-purity uranium than it had before signing the deal, and it has continued to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities.

The United States has separately been seeking to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has increasingly sought cooperation with Iran on the oil sector.
The State Department said it was again imposing sanctions on Maduro under the executive order from Trump that is based on the UN resolution, pointing to defense transactions between Iran and the leftist Venezuelan leader.

“For nearly two years, corrupt officials in Tehran have worked with the illegitimate regime in Venezuela to flout the UN arms embargo,” Pompeo said.
“Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide.”

Furthermore, Elliott Abrams, Washington’s envoy on Iran, said on Monday that the US is concerned about Iran’s cooperation with North Korea and will do whatever it can to prevent it, .
Abrams was responding to a reporter’s question on whether the United States had seen evidence that Tehran and Pyongyang had resumed cooperation on long-range missile development.
He spoke shortly after the Trump administration slapped the new sanctions on Iran.
(With Reuters, AFP and AP)