Middle East countries heighten efforts to control coronavirus as more cases emerge

The virus has infected over 240,000 people globally. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Middle East countries heighten efforts to control coronavirus as more cases emerge

  • Saudi Arabia has suspended domestic flights, trains, buses and taxis for two weeks in the Kingdom

DUBAI: Countries in the Middle East have been implementing new measures to fight the spread of COVID-19, which has already infected over 240,000 people globally and has killed nearly 10,000.

Friday, March 20 (All times in GMT)

20:15 - The United Arab Emirates health ministry announced on Friday its first two deaths from coronavirus, UAE official news agency WAM said.
The two deaths are for cases that suffered from previous health conditions, the agency said.

20:10 -  Israel reported its first fatality from the coronavirus on Friday, an 88-year-old man who also suffered from previous illnesses.
The Health Ministry said in a statement the man had been brought to the hospital about a week ago in serious condition.
Israel has so far reported 705 cases of coronavirus, the large majority with mild symptoms. About 10 patients are in serious condition and 15 have recovered completely.

20:03 - Egypt on Friday registered 29 new coronavirus cases, the health ministry said in a statement, bringing the total to 285.
The ministry said there was one new fatality, bringing the total number of deaths to eight.

19:38 -  The United Arab Emirates suspended entry of citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states until the approval of a pre-examination mechanism, starting at midnight today, Emirates News Agency (WAM) said on Friday quoting the foreign ministry. 

18:45 -  French health authorities reported 78 new deaths from coronavirus, taking the total to 450 or an increase of 21 percent, the toll rising less sharply then the two days before as extra measures to enforce the national lockdown were locally announced. The number of cases had risen to 12,612, up from 10,995 on Thursday.

17:25 - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told cafes, pubs and restaurants across the country to close on Friday night and to stay shut indefinitely to help slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
"We are telling cafes, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow," Johnson told reporters in Downing Street. "Though to be clear, they can continue to provide takeout services.
"Some people may of course be tempted to go out tonight, and I say to those people, 'please don't,'" Johnson said.
He said the government had to enforce the closure of cafes, pubs, restaurants as well as gyms and leisure centres to slow the spread of the virus.
"We're also telling nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres to close on the same timescale," Johnson said. "The sad thing is today, for now, at least physically, we need to keep people apart."

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (L) and Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) attend a news conference addressing the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak. (File/AFP)

Britain's government will pay businesses hit by the coronavirus outbreak not to lay off workers, as part of what finance minister Rishi Sunak said would be an unprecedented economic intervention.
"Today I can announce that for the first time in our history the government is going to step in and pay people's wages," Sunak said at a news conference, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of pubs and eat-in restaurants.
Sunak said the government would give grants to cover 80% of a worker's salary if businesses kept them on staff.

19:05 - Saudi Arabia announces 70 new cases of coronavirus, 58 of which are related to attending social events.

16:15 -  Canada will no longer accept irregular migrants trying to cross the shared border with the United States and will instead return them to US authorities, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.
The move marks a significant change in tactics from the Liberal government, which earlier this week had said those traversing the frontier would be put into quarantine.
"This is a temporary measure which we'll put in place for as long as the coronavirus crisis lasts. These are exceptional measures to protect citizens," Trudeau told a news conference.

16:00 - US President Donald Trump said on Friday he had put the Defense Production Act into action after saying earlier this week he would invoke the measure but essentially put it on hold until needed.
The measure is meant to allow the US government to speed production of masks, respirators, ventilators and other needed equipment to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump said he put the measure into action on Thursday evening.

The United States and Mexico have agreed to restrict non-essential travel across their border beginning on Saturday because of the coronavirus outbreak, the US announced Friday.
US President Donald Trump said the move, similar to one already announced with northern neighbor Canada, was necessary to prevent the "spread the infection to our border agents, migrants, and to the public at large."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at a White House briefing that trade between the United States and Mexico would continue.

US President Donald Trump addresses his administration's daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, US, March 20, 2020. (Reuters)

15:46 - A further 39 people have died in England after testing positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed deaths in the country to 167, the National Health Service said on Friday.
The patients who died were aged between 50 and 99 and had underlying health conditions.

14:30 - The number of journeys on London's underground train network has fallen by around 70% and on buses by roughly 40% as the authorities advised against all but essential travel due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"The financial impact of the reduction in our services and other business interruption caused by the response to COVID-19 virus is part of the collective national and global fight to control the spread of COVID-19," Transport for London (TfL) said.

14:00 - Tunisian President Kais Saied on Friday ordered a general lockdown, restricting public movement to counter the spread of the coronavirus.
Speaking in a televised broadcast, Saied said he was asking the majority of people to stay at home and stopping movement between Tunisian cities. 

13:50 - Saudi Arabia announced new emergency stimulus measures on Friday that took its support for the economy to more than $32 billion as it battles the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and lower oil prices.

The Saudi central bank said last week it had prepared a SR 50-billion ($13.32 billion) package to help banks and small and medium-sized enterprises cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Under the package announced by Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan on Friday, SR 70 billion will be set aside to help businesses, with measures such as exemptions and postponements of some government fees and taxes.

Business owners will be allowed to postpone value-added tax (VAT), excise tax, and income tax payments for a period of three months, the minister said in a statement.

Expat fees, which the government charges for hiring expatriates and obtaining visas for their dependents, will also be cancelled for a three-month period.

13:45 - The United States said Friday it was suspending all routine visa services around the world due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
US embassies and consulates will still consider emergency visas if they have adequate staff, the State Department said.
"In response to significant worldwide challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all US embassies and consulates," a travel advisory said.

13:30 - Jordan will impose a countrywide lockdown from Saturday to combat the coronavirus, barring people from moving except for emergencies, the government said.
The measures will apply from 0700 local time (0500 GMT) on Saturday until further notice, said Amjad Al Adailah, government spokesman.
King Abdullah has enacted an emergency decree giving the government sweeping powers to enforce an army-imposed curfew and other measures that infringe on civil and political liberties.

11:43 – Saudi Arabia announced a 120 billion Saudi riyals worth of initiatives to implement urgent measures to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on the Kingdom’s economic activities, including the private sector.

11:40 – Vietnam’s health ministry said it will quarantine all foreign arrivals from March 21.

11:27 – Switzerland has confirmed the numebr of coronavirus cases in the country at 4,840.

11:16 – Georgia has completely suspended air traffic with other countries, a government spokesman said.

11:00 – Singapore has reported 40 new coronavirus cases, taking tally to 385, a health ministry official said.

10:51 – Up 10,000 people have now died worldwide from the coronavirus pandemic, French news agency AFP reported.

10:41 – Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak rose by 149 to 1,433 on Friday, a health ministry official tweeted, adding that that total number of confirmed infections had increased by 1,237 to 19,644.

10:15Belgium has passed 2,000 coronavirus cases, an official said.

10:15 – The UAE has renewed entry procedures for Gulf Cooperation Council citizens starting Saturday March 21.

10:14 – Iran health ministry official said 1,433 have died so far from new coronavirus, and the number of infected cases has risen to 19,644.

10:11 – Austria said it was extending its coronavirus restrictions until April 13.

09:36 – Malaysia has recorded 130 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 1,030.

09:35 – South Africa has confirmed new cases of covid-19 on Friday, bringing toll from 52 to 202.

09:24 – Cape Verde has confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Friday.

09:12 – German coronavirus fatalities increased by 11 to 31 overnight and the number of confirmed cases rose to 13,957, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

08:32 The government of Hong Kong has confirned 48 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, a record day high for the country.

08:32 – Kuwait has recorded 11 new cases of coronavirus on Friday.

08:27 – The Philippines has recorded 13 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, raising total to 230. One additional death has been reported, bringing death toll to 18.

Workers wearing protective suits disinfect a street as a preventive measure against coronavirus in Manila, Philippines. (AFP)

07:57 UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said if people do not follow the advice then the country may need to impose further tougher measures.

07:45 – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the government will take additional measures to limit people’s movements if necessary.

07:15 – Qatar has removed exit visa requirements for an additional segment of its foreign labor force, including some of those working in the oil and gas industry, according to official tweets posted on Friday.

06:21 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree on Friday postponing all events related to science, culture and art, as it seeks to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.

06:25Oman has raided street vendors in Muscat for violating health precautions on Friday.

04:32 – Thailand has reported 50 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total to 322.

03:30 – Saudi Arabia has suspended domestic flights, trains, buses and taxis for two weeks in the Kingdom on Friday, as it heightens its efforts against the new coronavirus. 

Thursday, March 19 (All times in GMT)

20:36 – Egypt has reported one death and 46 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infected cases to 256 including 28 recovered patients and seven deaths.

Meanwhile, the government has suspended activities in cinemas and theaters as part of the country’s efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus in the country, local press reported on Thursday.

20:13Export of medicines, pharmaceutical and medical devices will be halted, the Saudi Customs announced on Friday in a circular sent to its land, sea and air customs ports as part of the Kingdom’s efforts to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19, state news agency SPA reported.

19:59 – The UAE’s National Corporation for Tourism & Hotels, NCTH, announced the exemption of tenants of retail shops and restaurants at its hotels from paying rents for three months, as part of the country’s efforts to fight against the new coronavirus COVID-19.

18:47 – Oman’s Ministry of Health has confirmed nine new coronavirus cases in the country, bringing the total number of infected cases to 48.

“Eight citizens and one expat have been infected with the virus,” the ministry said.

18:37 – The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has established a helpline for residents who are affected by the two-week suspension of re-entry to the country.

Holders of valid residence permits overseas and their family members and first-degree relatives in the UAE can call the helpline 0097124965228 for enquiries and assistance for humanitarian and emergency cases to ensure their safe return to the UAE, the ministry said in a report by state-run WAM.

17:57 – Kuwait’s health ministry reported three new recovered cases, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 18.

14:45 – The UAE has helped evacuate 80 people from Iran including 74 South Koreans and six Iranian family members on Thursday, a step the country has taken in response to a request by the South Korean government due to the coronavirus outbreak in the Islamic Republic

14:05 – Abu Dhabi’s tourism department has suspended sea cruises, desert camps, safaris and floating restaurants on Thursday evening, as a preventive measure against COVID-19.

10:23 – The International Air and Transport Association (IATA) has appealed to governments in the Middle East and Africa to support the aviation industry, as it takes major blows from the coronavirus outbreak

13:25 – Jordan imposes nationwide curfew starting noon March 21st.

Trump wrote to Assad about journalist missing in Syria, says Pompeo

In this file photo taken on December 04, 2018, Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of US journalist Austin Tice (portrait L), who was abducted in Syria more than six years ago, speak at a press conference in Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2020

Trump wrote to Assad about journalist missing in Syria, says Pompeo

  • In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to his recovery

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump personally wrote to his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad about the case of journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing since 2012, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.
“The US government has repeatedly attempted to engage Syrian officials to seek Austin’s release,” Pompeo said in a statement on the eighth anniversary of Tice’s disappearance.
“President Trump wrote to Bashar Assad in March to propose direct dialogue.”
Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012.
Thirty-one years old at the time he was captured, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later.
Since then, there has been no official information on whether he is alive or dead.
In March, Trump said the United States had written a letter to authorities in Damascus, without specifying that he himself had written personally to Assad, who Washington wants out of power. At that time, Trump said he did not know if Tice was still alive.


Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on Aug. 14, 2012.

“No one should doubt the president’s commitment to bringing home all US citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas,” Pompeo said Friday.
“Nowhere is that determination stronger than in Austin Tice’s case.”
Pompeo said he and Trump hoped there would be “no need for another statement like this a year from now.”
“Austin Tice’s release and return home are long, long overdue. We will do our utmost to achieve that goal,” he added.
A year ago, the US government said it believed Tice was still alive.
His mother Debra Tice said in January that she had “credible information” to that effect, without elaborating.
In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to his recovery.