Middle East, rest of the world grapple with rising coronavirus cases

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Kuwait reported seven new cases of coronavirus during the past 24 hours. (AFP)
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Coronavirus cases outside of China surpassed tolls inside the country. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 March 2020

Middle East, rest of the world grapple with rising coronavirus cases

  • Iran death toll rises to 988 with 135 new fatalities
  • Kuwait reports seven new cases in the past 24 hours

DUBAI: Countries in the Middle East and the rest of the world continue to set out new regulations regarding group gatherings as COVID-19 infections outside of China reach a higher number than inside the country.

Tuesday, March 17 (All times in GMT)

21:20 - Saudi Arabia will convene a virtual G20 Leaders Summit next week via video conference to discuss the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

20:45 - Oman will close as of Wednesday midday all shops in malls except for food stores, pharmacies, optical shops, and clinics and will shut down all traditional and local souqs, Oman's state TV said in a tweet on Tuesday.

The country announced nine new cases of the virus, bringing its toal to 33, on Tuesday.

Oman closed all tourist sites and banned gatherings in public places including beaches and parks over fears of coronavirus spread, state TV added. It also closed mosques - except for announcing prayers - salons and barbershops, and cultural and sports clubs.

The country also banned serving food in restaurants and cafes, including those in hotels, with the exception of deliveries, state TV said.

20:00 - When life gives you lemons, make lemonade... Or, if you're Italians self-isolating during the coronavirus outbreak, start your own night club from your balcony...

Another example of the human spirit enduring despite the circumstances... (Video: @Karen29_x)

19:50 - The UAE's health ministry said 15 new coronavirus cases have been detected, bringing the total number to 113.

19:45 - King Mohammed VI of Morocco said he has ordered the army to install equipped medical centers.

19:05 - EU leaders have agreed to institute a travel ban that prohibits most foreigners from entering the bloc for 30 days to discourage the spread of the coronavirus.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the proposal by EU officials “got a lot of support by the member states. It’s up to them now to implement. They said they will immediately do that.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that European leaders agreed to the Commission’s proposal for an entry ban with “very, very limited exceptions.”
The EU leaders also agreed to coordinate the repatriation of EU citizens stranded outside the bloc.

18:30 - The number of people infected by the coronavirus outbreak in Qatar rises to 442, as the country said it is also closing a section of the industrial zone for 14 days.

18:10 - Oman closes mosques, all shops in malls except food stores and pharmacies, also closes traditional and local souqs, all tourist sites, sports clubs, and bans gatherings in public places over coronavirus fears, its state TV said in a tweet.

17:25 - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran is considering releasing some Americans it has detained, as he urged the Islamic Republic to free them as a humanitarian gesture because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are aware that they are thinking about whether to release them or not,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “Everyone should know that we are working it, we are communicating with them, and we are urging them, as we have done publicly many times, to release every American that is being wrongfully held there as a humanitarian gesture, given the risk that is posed to them given what is taking place inside of Iran.”

16:45 - Bahrain announced a financial package of 4.3 billion Bahraini dinar ($11.39 billion) to combat the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.

The measures include covering electricity and water payments for individuals and companies for three months starting in April, the finance ministry said in a tweet.

Bahrain will also double the size of the liquidity fund to reach 200 million dinars ($530 million). The central bank will also raise the lending capacity of banks by 3.7 billion dinars ($9.80 billion) to postpone installments or provide additional financing for clients, the ministry said.

The package also exempts tourist facilities from paying taxes for three months as of April as well, the ministry added. 

16:40 - President Donald Trump wants the government to send checks to Americans in the next two weeks in an effort to curb the economic cost of the coronavirus pandemic, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday.

“The president has instructed me we have to do this now,” he said at the White House briefing. He didn't give details except to say the amount should be significant and millionaires would not get it. The proposal requires approval from Congress.

"We want to make sure Americans get money in their pockets quickly," Mnuchin said. The stock market rose during the briefing after a savage drop Monday.

The White House on Tuesday was asking Congress to approve a massive emergency rescue package to help businesses as well as taxpayers cope with the economic crisis that is paired with the pandemic.

16:20 - Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Islamic Affairs Abdullatif Al-Sheikh said: We hope that the imams, preachers and muezzins feel the responsibility” and “we will hold accountable any failure to implement the decision to stop congregational prayers.”

16:09 - US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration intends to keep markets open through the coronavirus crisis, although shorter trading hours may be needed at some point.

16:00 - Some good news among the coronavirus gloom - staff at an IKEA store on Sweden's west coast stumbled across a pile of around 50,000 face masks gathering dust in a warehouse and donated them to a nearby hospital.

15:45 - Egypt announces the closure of cinemas and theaters in the country in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

15:30 - Saudi Arabia suspended prayers in mosques over coronavirus fears, according to Saudi Press Agency.

14:40 - First coronavirus death confirmed in Brazil, say officials.

14:15 - As the UK's confirmed cases reached 1,950 on Tuesday, Queen Elizabeth II canceled her annual garden parties and will leave London for Windsor Castle earlier than planned because of the coronavirus outbreak, Buckingham Palace said.

The 93-year-old monarch will carry out a number of small duties at Buckingham Palace in the next few days before she heads to Windsor, west of London, on Thursday - a week earlier than scheduled.

13:50 - UEFA has postponed the European Championship, due to take place across the continent in June and July this year, until 2021 after holding crisis meetings, European football's governing body said on Tuesday.

The move comes with global sport having largely ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic which has led to lockdowns in several countries and border closures.

UEFA said the postponement would allow "priority" to be given to finishing domestic leagues that have been suspended due to the crisis.

13:30 - Iran issued its most dire warning yet Tuesday about the outbreak of the new coronavirus ravaging the country, suggesting “millions” could die in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps traveling and ignoring health guidance. READ MORE HERE.

12:50 – British foreign minister Dominic Raab advised British nationals on Tuesday to stop all non-essential travel globally for the next 30 days, the latest stringent measure taken by the government to try to stem a growing coronavirus outbreak.

12:45 – Kuwait donated $40 million to the World Health Organisation in order to support their effort against the novel coronavirus, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Khaled Sulaiman Al-Jarallah announced in a press conference.

12:45 – The Philippines reported two more coronavirus deaths, bring the total to 14.

11:40 – Iran state TV warned coronavirus could kill ‘millions’ in Islamic Republic if public keeps traveling, ignoring health guidance.

11:00 – Iraq has recorded 21 new coronavirus casualties.

10:50 – Iran said the death toll from coronavirus has climbed to 988 with 135 new fatalities, with 1,178 confirmed new cases in the past 24 hours.

10:45 – Spain’s health ministry official said the coronavirus death toll in the country has risen to 491 on Tuesday, with total confirmed cases at 11,178.

10:25 – Jordan has suspended private-sector work except for the health industry, prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people and the movement between governorates.

10:10 – Egypt has placed over 300 families under quarantine in a Delta village to stem the spread of the new coronavirus after two deaths were recorded this month originating from the area. “We have confined more than 300 families to their homes where they will remain in quarantine,” Health Minister Hala Zayed told late-night television host Amr Adib.

10:05 – A World Health Organization official said on Tuesday that two staff members have been confirmed to be infected with coronavirus.
“The staff had left the office and then at home showed symptoms and were confirmed with COVID-19,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told journalists, referring to the official name of the disease caused by the virus. “We do therefore have two confirmed cases.”

09:50 – The Jordanian army said on Tuesday it will deploy at entrances and exits of main cities in the kingdom in a move officials said was ahead of an imminent announcement of a state of emergency to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The country, which has already announced a tight lockdown after the number of confirmed cases of the virus rose to least 34, was about to take further imminent steps that include announcing a state of emergency, officials told Reuters.
“These measures aim at preventing the spread of coronavirus,” said an army statement.

09:50 – Indonesia will prohibit the entry and transit of visitors from six European countries plus Iran from March 20 due to coronavirus concerns, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
For the next month, all travellers who wish to visit Indonesia will also have to obtain a health certificate from their home countries and must apply for a visa from Indonesian missions, the ministry said in a statement.
Restrictions for travellers from China and South Korea’s Daegu City and Gyeongsangbuk-do province remain in place, the ministry said. 

09:20 – Sri Lanka said on Tuesday said it will ban all incoming flights for two weeks to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Flights already in the air will be allowed to land and passengers to disembark, said Mohan Samaranayake, a spokesman for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

09:15 – The Philippines’ flag carrier Philippine Airlines said it will cancel all domestic and international flights amid coronavirus quarantine measures.

09:10 – Pakistan’s health ministry has reported the country’s first death from coronavirus.

08:55 – Georgia has banned minibuses, and has restricted services of gyms and swimming pools form March 18.

08:45 – Kuwait reported seven new cases of coronavirus during the past 24 hours, bringing the total infections to 130.

08:40 – The Philippines has reported 45 additional confirmed coronavirus infections, bringing total to 187, the country’s health ministry said.

08:35 – Algeria has closed its mosques until further notice as a precaution against coronavirus, according to the country’s religious affairs ministry.

08:30 – The Philippines’ Cebu Pacific said all its domestic and international flights will be cancelled from March 19 to April 14 to support coronavirus quarantine measures.

08:10 Iran has temporarily freed about 85,000 prisoners, including political prisoners, a spokesman for its judiciary said on Tuesday, in response to the coronavirus epidemic. “Some 50% of those released are security-related prisoners ... Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak,” said Gholamhossein Esmaili.

07:50 – Budapest Airport will allow Hungarian citizens only to enter the country as of Tuesday after sweeping restrictions imposed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government on Monday to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
As the restrictions took effect, Hungary reported a jump in confirmed coronavirus infections to 50 on Tuesday from 39 a day earlier as the central European country transitions from isolated cases to cluster infections.
“Budapest Airport is not closing; it will continue to welcome and launch flights,” the airport operator said in a statement.
“However, only Hungarian citizens can enter Hungary from Tuesday. Anyone, Hungarians and foreigners alike, are free to depart from the airport in the coming days,” it said.
Foreigners denied entry must wait in a designated transit area until departure. A previously imposed mandatory medical screening for Hungarians returning from South Korea, Iran, Israel, China and Italy remains in effect, the airport said.

07:05 – Turkey has identified 93 suspects who have made “unfounded and provocative” postings on social media about the coronavirus outbreak and has detained 19 of them, the Turkish Interior Ministry said.

06:50 – Jordan’s Health Ministry recorded 6 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of active cases to 33.

06:45 – South Korea said on Tuesday it plans to tighten border checks for all arrivals from overseas to prevent new cases of coronavirus coming into the country at a time when domestically transmitted infections are subsiding. The stricter checks for all arrivals will start on Thursday and come as China also stepped up monitoring of foreign travelers, in the latest sign of the pandemic’s shifting center of gravity from Asia to Europe.

06:20 – Kazakhstan’s healthcare ministry reported 14 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, raising the total count to 27 in the Central Asian nation.
According to minister Yelzhan Birtanov, the 14 new patients were diagnosed in the capital, Nur-Sultan.

03:45 – Kazakhstan will temporarily soften banks’ prudential regulations between April 1 and Oct. 1 due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and lower oil prices, the Central Asian nation’s banking regulator said on Tuesday.

The move will make it easier for banks to maintain and expand lending by allowing them to create smaller reserves, Madina Abylkassymova, the chairwoman of the financial regulation agency, told a government meeting.

03:35 – Cambodia reported 12 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, doubling its tally to 24.

Of the new cases, 11 were people who had travelled to Malaysia for a religious event at a mosque, a statement from the Ministry of Health said.

Two others who had travelled to the same ceremony had tested positive for the virus in Cambodia over the weekend.

03:20The Philippine Stock Exchange was closed with no trading Tuesday after the president placed the northern part of the country including Manila in quarantine.
The exchange’s CEO said the end of trading activity would be “until further notice.” The Philippines has 140 cases of infection.

Monday, March 16 (All times in GMT)

23:45 – Morocco’s Ministry of Health recorded 9 more cases of coronavirus, bringing the total to 37. Morocco has only reported one death due to coronavirus.

20:35 – Algeria suspended travel to and from five Arab and six African Sahel countries to curb the spread of coronavirus. The five Arab countries include Tunisia, Dubai, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan.

20:15 – Jordan’s Ministry of Health said the number of coronavirus cases in the country reached 29, state news agency Petra reported.

19:50 – Egypt’s Ministry of Health confirmed 40 new cases of coronavirus, which increased the total up to 166 cases.

19:10 – Oman’s Ministry of Health has registered two new cases of coronavirus after two Omani citizens tested positive. “Their condition is stable and they are under home isolation,” Ministry said in a statement. “This brings the total registered cases to 24,” the health ministry added.

18:50 – Iraq’s Ministry of Health recorded 6 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 133. There have been 10 reported deaths so far, and 32 recoveries.

14:45 – The UAE sent two aid planes carrying critical medical supplies to Iran to support the latter’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.

The two aid aircraft, which took off from Abu Dhabi on Monday, contained over 32 metric tons of supplies, including boxes filled with thousands of pairs of gloves, surgical masks, and protective equipment.


Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 13 July 2020

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

  • Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines
  • In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment

CAIRO: Their accounts are similar. The girls and women describe meeting the young man — a former student at Egypt’s most elite university — in person and online, followed by deceit, then escalating sexual harassment, assault, blackmail or rape.
Some were minors when the alleged crimes took place. In all, more than 100 accusers have emerged online in the past two weeks.
It’s resulted in a new #MeToo firestorm on social media, and the arrest of the suspect last week from his home in a gated community outside Cairo.
Activists say the case shows that misogyny cuts across the country’s stark class lines; many in Egypt have previously portrayed harassment as a problem of poor urban youth.
Women’s rights champions hope the authorities’ swift response signals change in how Egyptian society handles accusations of sexual assault.
“What’s before this case is totally different from what’s after,” said Nihad Abuel-Komsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights and a lawyer representing some of the alleged victims.
Sexual assault and harassment are deep-seated problems in Egypt, where victims must also fight the undercurrent of a conservative culture that typically ties female chastity to a family’s reputation. In courts, the burden of proof lies heavily on the victim of such crimes.
In a statement, the public prosecutor’s officer said the accused man acknowledged he blackmailed at least six girls, saying he would send sensitive photos of them to their families if they cut ties. Several attempts by The Associated Press to contact him or his lawyer were unsuccessful.
Amr Adib, Egypt’s most prominent TV host, said in a recent episode that he’d spoken with the young man’s father, who occupies a high-ranking position at a telecommunication company. He said his son dismissed the allegations.
At least 10 women have officially reported their claims, according to Abuel-Komsan, of the women’s rights center. Activists also set up the Instagram account @assaultpolice to collect allegations, said Sabah Khodir, a US-based writer who helps run the account. She said there are more than 100 accounts.
“We are demanding to be listened to … We are just using what we have, lending our voices to hopefully create some kind of change,” she said.
A court has ordered the accused to remain in custody pending an investigation into an array of accusations that include attempted rape, blackmail and indecent assault, according to a five-page statement by the public prosecutor. In the same statement, the prosecutor urged more alleged victims to come forward.
Last week, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi moved to amend the country’s criminal law to increase protections for the identities of sexual assault victims, which activists have welcomed. The amendment still needs parliamentary approval and El-Sisi’s signature to be made law.
The allegations against the student cover a period of at least three years.
Many of the anonymous accounts appear to be from fellow students at the American International School, one of the country’s most expensive private high schools, and the American University in Cairo, which school officials said the accused left in 2018. It would appear that he then enrolled at the European Union Business School in Spain, in an online program last year.
In February, he spent three weeks at its Barcelona campus, but the school expelled him after an accusation of online harassment that was subsequently proved false, said Claire Basterfield, a spokesperson for the EUBS. The school has filed a 54-page criminal complaint with the Spanish police, seeking further investigation into his actions.
The head of the American University in Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said the university has a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment, but that he would not comment on an ongoing case.
According to accusations posted on social media in the past two weeks, the former student would mine the pool of mutual friends on Facebook, online groups or school clubs. He would start with flattery, then pressure the women and girls to share intimate photos that he later used to blackmail them to have sex with him. If they did not, he would threaten to send the pictures to their family.
In some cases, he “attracted their sympathy by claiming he was going through a crisis,” then lured them to his home in an upscale compound where he sexually assaulted them, the prosecutor’s statement alleged.
In Egypt, sexual assault complaints have typically involved street harassment. During and after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, women were frequently harassed, groped — and in some cases, beaten and sexually assaulted — during mass protests.
This time, there are signs of wider ripples throughout the society. The current series of complaints has prompted Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, to speak out on sexual harassment and assault, even challenging the widely held belief that a woman is at fault if her clothing is less than modest. It’s a departure from the norm for the conservative Muslim majority country where most women wear headscarves.
There are also other corners where accusations of sexual harassment are emerging, such as in civil society groups and businesses.
Two rights groups said they fired one employee and suspended another, and opened investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made public. Authorities also detained a prominent publisher over the weekend after a poet filed a complaint with the Cairo police, accusing him of sexually harassing her, the state-run Al-Ahram reported. The publisher denied the allegations in a Facebook posting. He was released late Sunday on 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($313) in bail, pending an investigation.
The recent cases — reaching into the Egyptian elite — have “refuted all previous arguments and justifications for harassment, from poverty to illiteracy and things like that,” Abuel-Komsan said.