Middle East coronavirus cases continue to rise

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A Baghdad resident stands inside a coffee shop with a sign in Arabic which reads ‘Coffee shop is closed, due to corona following a decision by the health ministry’ on March 16, 2020. (AFP)
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A worker cleans benches in front of closed food street stalls after a ban for public imposed by the national authorities amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Karachi on March 18, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 19 March 2020

Middle East coronavirus cases continue to rise

  • Rest of the world also reporting bleak scenarios
  • The death toll in Iran has reached 1,135 on Wednesday

DUBAI: Middle East countries are reporting a higher number of coronavirus cases, with Iran recording its single biggest jump in deaths during the past 24 hours, as the rest world experiencing similar bleak scenarios. Countries are implementing tighter rules on international and domestic travel to strengthen efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Jordan has limited movement even between governorates in order to contain the disease, as UN reported that some refugees have been infected with coronavirus.

Wednesday, March 18 (All times in GMT)

21:15 - Applause rang out from windows across France Wednesday night as housebound residents cheered in solidarity with healthcare workers on the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak gripping the country.

France has imposed sweeping lockdown measures, confining millions to their homes for much of the day. Residents are only permitted to leave with good reason -- and that includes legions of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals caring for the thousands of people infected with coronavirus across the country.

20:59 - The United Arab Emirates suspended issuing all types of work permits starting Thursday until further notice as a precautionary measure against coronavirus spread, state news agency (WAM) reported late on Wednesday.
The decision excludes internal transportation permits and employment permits for Expo 2020, WAM added.

20:55 - The Saudi Center of Disease Prevention and Control shared on Wednesday the tools they use to pinpoint the origin of coronavirus cases and the epidemiological link between the cases. Read more here.

20:25 - Death toll in Turkey from coronavirus rises to two, number of confirmed cases rises to 191 from 98 a day earlier, the country's health minister said.

"The test results today show that measures are very necessary. There are 93 new diagnosed case for which treatment has begun," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca wrote on Twitter. The number of cases had similarly doubled the previous day.

20:05 - Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said that his government is taking precautionary financial measures to address the effects of the global coronavirus epidemic on Wednesday. 

19:35 - The United States is suspending all routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa services as of Wednesday in most countries worldwide due to coronavirus outbreak, a spokeswoman for the State Department said.

The spokeswoman did not mention which or how many countries are halting services. She said US missions abroad will continue to provide emergency visa services "as resources allow," and that the services to US citizens will remain available.

Missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible, the spokeswoman said, without giving a date.

19:30 - Egypt’s health ministry says 14 new cases of coronavirus have been reported, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 210.

19:25 - Sudan's government said it will open airports in the country for two days so that its citizens who are stranded abroad can return.

19:15 - Oman reported six new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday. 

19:00 - Pakistan on Wednesday confirmed its first two deaths from coronavirus as the total number of infected patients in the country climbed to 260, the health minister said on Twitter.

Both deaths were reported from northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where so far 19 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.

"Sadly, a second patient in Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) Peshawar, a 36 year old from Hangu district has also passed away from coronavirus," Taimur Khan Jhangra, provincial minister for health of north west province said in a tweet.

A health worker sprays disinfectant to a bus following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Islamabad, Pakistan March 18, 2020. (Reuters)

18:55 - The coronavirus epidemic has caused 89 new deaths across France over the last 24 hours bringing the total death toll in the country to 264, the top French health official said on Wednesday.
"We have an epidemic that is rapidly becoming more serious," Jerome Salomon told reporters, adding that France now had 9,134 confirmed cases, 3,626 of whom were in hospital.

A man wearing a facemask for protective measures does his grocery shopping at the Barbes Market, on March 18, 2020, in Paris, as a strict lockdown came into in effect in France to stop the spread of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus. (AFP)

18:45 - The city of Venice is enjoying crystal clear waters in its world-famous canals due to a lack of debris from tourists and near-zero boat traffic under Italy's ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

The clear waters are a tiny bright spot in the beleaguered but beautiful city, whose economy has been virtually wiped out since tourists fled the area beginning last month, spooked by the spread of coronavirus in the country's north.

Since March 9, the city like the rest of Italy has been a so-called "red zone," with hotels, restaurants, cafés and most businesses shuttered, and residents ordered to stay inside and avoid travel.

18:10 - Pakistan on Wednesday confirmed its first death from coronavirus as the total number of infected patients in the country climbed to 260, the health minister said on Twitter.
The death was reported in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where so far 19 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.

A worker cleans benches in front of closed food street stalls after a ban for public imposed by the national authorities amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Karachi on March 18, 2020. (AFP)

17:55 - Israel barred entry to all foreign nationals unless they have residency in the Jewish state, in the latest measure to contain coronavirus.
“It has been decided that from today, foreign nationals who are not citizens of Israel and who do not hold Israeli citizenship or residency will not be allowed entry into Israel,” a foreign ministry statement said.

17:40 - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that school closures across the country were necessary from Friday for most pupils, to slow the spread of coronavirus.

"We must apply downward pressure, further downward pressure on the upward curve by closing the schools," Johnson said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"After schools shut their gates from Friday afternoon, they will remain closed for most pupils, for the vast majority of pupils, until further notice.

17:30 - Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health announced 67 new cases of the virus in the Kingdom on Wednesday.

17:10 Italy death toll from coronavirus outbreak surges by 475 to 2,978.

17:00 - The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday said the new coronavirus was an "enemy against humanity", as the number of people infected in the pandemic soared past 200,000.
"This coronavirus is presenting us with an unprecedented threat," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in a virtual news conference, stressing that it was "an unprecedented opportunity to come together as one against a common enemy: an enemy against humanity."

16:20 - UK says 32 more people have died after testing positive for coronavirus - taking the total number of UK deaths to 104

16:20 - US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he is invoking the Defense Production Act for use against the coronavirus pandemic, putting in place a law that will allow the US government to accelerate production of needed equipment.
Trump also said a hospital ship will be sent to hard-hit New York to help people affected by the contagion, and that a second hospital ship will be deployed to the West Coast.

15:45 - The UAE said on Wednesday that all people entering the country will have to remain at home in self-isolation for 14 days and that legal action would be taken against people who do not comply with the order, according to Emirates News Agency (WAM).

15:40 - A city in Germany's Bavaria region has become the first city in the country to impose a curfew due to the virus, according to German media reports on Wednesday said.

15:20 - Turkey will close its rail and land border with Greece and Bulgaria from midnight over the new coronavirus fear, after Ankara opened the gates for refugees heading to Europe.

"The land and rail border gates will be closed to exits and entries from 2100 GMT today (Wednesday)" as ordered by a circular issued by the interior ministry, the private Dogan news agency reported

15:00 - A British professor who was in Downing Street this week after convincing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to stiffen his response to the coronavirus outbreak has self-isolated after developing a persistent dry cough and a fever.

Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, produced a projection of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak for the British government and was in Downing Street on Monday.

It was not immediately clear whether Ferguson had met Johnson face to face although the professor attended Johnson’s news conference.

14:55 - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said his government would provide C$27 billion ($18.6 billion) in stimulus directly to Canadian families and businesses struggling because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Trudeau also told reporters the government would provide C$55 billion in additional aid to businesses and households through tax deferrals. 

14:45 - Israel closed off Palestinian-administered areas of the occupied West Bank on Wednesday to limit the spread of the coronavirus, officials from both sides said.

"From today, a closure has taken place in the West Bank," said Yotam Shefer, who heads the international department of COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.

He told journalists the decision had been taken in conjunction with the Palestinian government, based in Ramallah.

Palestinian police stand guard outside the Church of the Nativitiy in Bethlehem, in Israeli-occupied West Bank, amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Reuters)

14:09 The UN’s International Labor Organization estimates that fallout from the new coronavirus outbreak could cause nearly 25 million job losses and drain up to $3.4 trillion worth of income by the end of this year.
ILO laid out a number of scenarios on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, estimating an increase in worldwide unemployment of between 5.3 million and 24.7 million people. That’s on top of the estimated 188 million that the agency had predicted late last year in its annual forecast.
The agency noted the global financial crisis boosted global unemployment by 22 million people.

13:55 - President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced the closure of the US-Canada border, though underlining that trade will not be impacted.

The shutdown builds on Trump's barring of visitors from most of Europe, China and other parts of the world hit by coronavirus.

"We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!" Trump tweeted.

13:50 - Germany has suspended its refugee intake programmes including a deal with Turkey, an interior ministry spokesman said Wednesday, as the European Union shut its borders to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The interior ministry has halted the programmes on refugee resettlement "due to the restrictions on travel", said the spokesman, adding that they will resume "when possible".

13:45 - AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimović has set up a fundraiser to help Italian hospitals in the center of the coronavirus outbreak. According to the website accepting donations, Ibrahimović has donated 100,000 euros ($109,000) to the fund. It quickly raised a further 10,300 euros ($11,300).

The site states that all the money raised will be “directly donated to Humanitas to help strengthen the intensive care and emergency units of Milano, Bergamo, Castellanza and Torino's hospitals.” Italy has been the second hardest hit country with more than 31,000 cases of the virus.

The 38-year-old Ibrahimović rejoined Milan in January from the Los Anegles Galaxy. He has also played for Italian clubs Inter Milan and Juventus.

13:15 - The UAE banned its citizens from traveling abroad over coronavirus fears on Wednesday, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.  

13:05 – The parallel administration controlling eastern Libya will impose a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., excluding security and emergency personnel, to stop any spread of the coronavirus, its interior ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Libya has not yet confirmed any cases of the virus, but both its internationally recognized government in Tripoli and the rival parallel administration in Benghazi have imposed tight restrictions on travel over the crisis.

11:50 – The European Union has accused the Russian media of spreading misinformation about coronavirus.

10:30 – The coronavirus death toll in Iran has reached 1,135, with 147 fatalities in the past 24 hours. Iran’s number of infected people from coronavirus also climbed to 17,361, state TV reported.

09:50 – Oman’s central bank is preparing to provide some 8 billion Omani rials ($20.8 billion) in extra liquidity to banks as one of several measures aimed at supporting the economy, state TV reported, as coronavirus fears escalate in the Gulf region.

09:30 – A total of 276 Indians have tested positive for coronavirus overseas to date, an Indian government minister said. The vast majority, 255, tested positive in Iran, with others in the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Hong Kong, V. Muraleedharan, minister of state for external affairs, said in a written reply to a question in India’s parliament.

09:20 – Indonesia announced on Wednesday 55 new coronavirus cases, taking the total to 227 in the Southeast Asian nation and marking the biggest daily rise in positive cases. Achmad Yurianto, a health ministry official, also told a news conference that the number of deaths from the disease rose to 19, with deaths recorded in seven different provinces, while 11 patients had recovered.

A worker wearing protective suit sprays disinfectant on some restaurant tables in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 14, 2020. (Reuters)

09:00 – Malta will stop all incoming passenger flights on Saturday and only allow cargo, humanitarian and repatriation flights to land to stop the spread of coronavirus, officials said. The Mediterranean island, which depends heavily on tourism, has reported 38 cases so far, of which 32 were people who had caught the disease abroad.

08:45 – The Philippines has reported 15 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the country’s total number to 202.

08:15 – Panic buying by British shoppers escalated on Wednesday with shelves stripped bare by alarmed customers hoarding for the coronavirus isolation, prompting Tesco and Sainsbury’s to restrict purchases.

07:45 – The Philippines lifted a deadline for thousands of foreign travelers to leave the northern third of the country, including the capital, after quarantining the region due to an increase in coronavirus infections

07:20 – Taiwanese authorities say all foreigners will be barred from entering Taiwan from Thursday to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. Diplomats, alien resident card holders and those with special entry permits will be allowed in, but must undergo 14 days of quarantine.

06:35 – Oman College of Health Sciences will cancel online studies during the suspension period, a senior administrator said. “Based on the directives of the higher management at the Oman College of Health Sciences, it is decided to cancel remote study through electronic teaching aids during the suspension period, as the school year will be rescheduled and the remainder of the second semester will be moved beyond the study suspension period,” the college administration said in a statement.

06:00 – Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) has suspended the issuance of all permits for business events, covering conferences, exhibitions and meetings, across the emirate until March 31 as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.

05:40 – The UAE and Bahrain have topped the number of people tested for the coronavirus with a combined total of 19,165 per one million individuals, UAE state news agency WAM reported on Tuesday.

03:35 – Vietnam reported new case of coronavirus, which is linked to Malaysia’s mosque event, taking country’s tally to 67.

03:30 – Kyrgyzstan has confirmed its first three coronavirus cases, healthcare minister Kosmosbek Cholponbayev said on Wednesday. Three Kyrgyz nationals tested positive after arriving from Saudi Arabia, he told a briefing.

Tuesday, March 17 (All times in GMT)

22:15 – France could stop British travelers from entering the country if Britain fails to lockdown to battle the coronavirus, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

22:00The UAE’s two major bourses are implementing a tighter limit down cap of listed securities starting Wednesday as a precaution against market volatility because of the coronavirus outbreak.

21:30 – Morocco’s Ministry of Health said there are 6 new infections with COVID-19, bringing the total number to 44.

19:35 – UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention recorded 15 new cases, bringing the total to 113.

17:30 – Egypt’s Ministry of Health recorded 30 new coronavirus cases and two new deaths, which brings tolls to 196 patients and 6 deaths. So far, 26 people have recovered.

Accusations of serial assault spark new #MeToo wave in Egypt

Updated 39 min 44 sec ago

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.