DUBAI, BEIRUT: Several Gulf Arab states recorded new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday as 6,900 confirmed cases of the new virus were reported across the region.
Iran has emerged as a center for the disease in the Middle East. It says the new coronavirus has killed 49 more people in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 194 amid 6,566 confirmed
cases in the Islamic republic, according to Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, who gave the figures at a news conference Sunday.
In neighboring Kuwait, the Health Ministry reported two more infections, raising the total to 64. Qatari authorities announced three more cases to bring the total to 15.
Kuwait’s central bank said on Sunday it was setting up a 10 million dinar ($32.79 million) fund to support state efforts to fight the virus.
Gulf states have canceled or postponed conferences, sporting events and concerts due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix will go ahead on March 22 without fans due to the coronavirus crisis, a blow to the Gulf Arab state’s important tourism sector.
Bahrain, which is hosting the second round of the Formula One season at the Sakhir circuit outside Manama, has reported 83 cases of the virus, mostly linked to people who had traveled to Iran.
“Bahrain has made the decision to hold this year’s (race) as a participants-only event,” organizers said on Sunday.
In the UAE, a Wizz Air press conference in Abu Dhabi, planned on Tuesday, has been canceled, organizers said.
Oman has canceled all events at the Royal Opera House in the capital Muscat that had been scheduled for March and April as well as tours of the site, state news agency ONA said on Sunday.
Aid agencies are moving to prevent the coronavirus outbreak in conflict-plagued northwestern Syria, where damaged health infrastructure and massive displacement make containment a nearly impossible task.
Syria has not yet confirmed any coronavirus cases but its “fragile health systems may not have the capacity to detect and respond” to an epidemic, Hedinn Halldorsson, a spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO), told AFP.
The risk of an outbreak is especially high and most alarming in Syria’s northwest, where some 3 million people are trapped in a shrinking rebel bastion battered by months of bombardment.
With close to 1 million people displaced since December by a Russian-backed regime offensive on the Idlib region, overcrowded settlements are teeming with
fresh arrivals, and many of the displaced are sleeping rough in freezing temperatures.
Medical facilities have been targeted during the latest bombing campaign, further reducing the capacity of a health system ravaged by nearly nine years of conflict.
Unable to provide services from government-held territory inside Syria, the WHO provides cross-border assistance to rebel-held Idlib via Turkey, Halldorsson said.
Health personnel are being trained, “and laboratories in both Idlib and Ankara are being prepared and stocked to safely test and diagnose the virus,” he added.
A Russian-Turkish cease-fire deal went into effect on Friday, bringing relative calm to Idlib for the first time in months. But many fear the fighting will eventually resume, in a further challenge to efforts to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.
Misty Buswell of the International Rescue Committee said the situation in Idlib was “especially ripe for a spread” of the virus.
“An outbreak would be devastating for thousands whose health status is already compromised due to lack of sufficient food, clean water and exposure to cold weather,” she told AFP.
Buswell said the IRC was focusing on “enhancing preventative measures” by raising awareness, providing medical supplies and strengthening disease surveillance and reporting systems.
“If an outbreak is reported, we will work with local health actors to activate a response,” Buswell said.
Mustafa Al-Abdo, the deputy head of Idlib’s opposition-run health department, appealed for the formation of an isolated medical center that would be ready to receive cases.
He also called on aid agencies to equip health workers with testing kits, medical masks, gloves and other equipment for prevention.