Middle East health authorities on alert amid coronavirus outbreak

People wearing masks stand on a street in a shopping district in Hong Kong on January 26, 2020, as a preventative measure following a coronavirus outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2020

Middle East health authorities on alert amid coronavirus outbreak

  • King Abdullah II ordered an aircraft to be sent to evacuate Jordanian nationals from Wuhan
  • WHO representative in Egypt commends efforts taken by officials to screen incoming travelers for infection

DUBAI: Countries across the Middle East have taken swift steps to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus 2019-nCoV following an outbreak that began in China’s Hubei province.

From Jordan and Lebanon all the way to Egypt, governments are on high alert to ensure the safety of their citizens.

The infection with pneumonia-like symptoms was first detected on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan city in Hubei.

Wuhan is one of at least 10 cities placed under lockdown by Chinese authorities to control the outbreak.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II has ordered an aircraft to be sent to evacuate Jordanian nationals from the Wuhan “as soon as possible,” according to a statement.

The statement said the government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, had obtained the consent of Chinese authorities for the evacuation from Wuhan.

The Jordanian embassy in Beijing said it was in contact with Chinese authorities and Jordanian nationals to complete the evacuation as soon as possible.

Earlier, John Jabbour, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Egypt, confirmed that no cases had been reported in the country.

“The Egyptian Health Ministry has taken all necessary preventive measures,” he told the state news agency on Thursday.

“We are keeping daily contact with Health Minister Hala Zayed and the ministry’s preventive-medicine sector to follow up on any developments.”

Jabbour commended the ministry’s efforts to deal with the situation by screening incoming travelers at all harbors and airports.

He said advisory preventive guidance measures have been issued to all health directorates for educating citizens about the outbreak.

The Egyptian Embassy in Beijing said on Saturday night that there were no infections among the Egyptian community in China, adding that it was monitoring conditions in Wuhan city, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s Minister of Public Health, said on Friday no 2019-nCoV cases had been reported in the country. “(There was some) concern over the spread of the H1N1 flu,” he said, adding that “there is no need to panic over the spread of this or any other disease.”

He said patients with suspected coronavirus infection will be offered treatment immediately after diagnosis free of charge, adding that the ministry’s epidemiological surveillance unit would be deployed in the field.

In neighboring Syria, the Health Ministry also said no 2019-nCoV infections had been detected in the country, although strict measures were being taken at border crossings.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the ministry said that strict measures were being taken at harbors, land border crossings and at Damascus International Airport to detect suspected coronavirus infections.

Turkish authorities have not reported any 2019-nCoV cases during screenings of aircraft passengers from China using thermal cameras, according to news agencies.

Announcing on Friday that thermal cameras had been installed at all airports in the country, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca disclosed that one suspected infection had been detected and action taken.

“A Chinese national, who had a complaint of nausea, headache and uneasiness in Istanbul’s Buyuk Cekmece district, was isolated from other patients as a precaution on Wednesday night after (we learnt) she came from Wuhan,” he said.

“Although the general condition of the patient was good, her case was considered as suspicious due to her travel history. We sent her back to China this morning upon her request.”

Although no cases have been proven or confirmed yet in the Middle East, the WHO wants travelers with symptoms to seek medical attention and share travel history with their healthcare provider.

The WHO wants public health authorities to provide travelers with information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via health practitioners, travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry. 

“Coronavirus infections are highly contagious, and symptoms are usually similar to that of the flu,” Dr Ali Mohammad, specialist pulmonologist at Aster Clinics in Dubai, told Arab News.

“Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands, as well as, rarely, fecal contamination.”


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

Updated 52 min 45 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)