More precautions taken as coronavirus grips Middle East economy

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A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 20, 2020 shows Syrian Red Crescent workers spraying disinfectant along a street in the capital Damascus, as part of measures against the spread of COVID-19. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 March 2020

More precautions taken as coronavirus grips Middle East economy

  • COVID-19 has infected more than 270,000 people globally, and has claimed the lives of nearly 11,500

DUBAI: Countries have taken extra precautions as the new coronavirus pandemic hits major industries and economies.

Some governments in the Middle East have launched national aid in the past days to counter the effects of the pandemic, including Saudi Arabia which announced a $32-billion stimulus package to support its local economy on Friday.

COVID-19 has infected more than 270,000 people globally, and has claimed the lives of nearly 10,000.

Saturday, March 21 (All times in GMT)

21:20 - Another feel good story for 'coronavirus era' - Spanish police are going round their local villages and singing for those self-isolating...

21:10 - It has been revealed that nearly one billion people have been confined to their homes as a result of the virus.

21:05 - US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un detailing a plan to develop ties, state media reported Sunday citing Kim's powerful sister, but she warned their good personal relationship is not enough, as a hiatus in disarmament talks drags on.

20:30 -  The confirmed death toll in the United Kingdom from the coronavirus has risen by 56 in the space of a day to 233, the National Health Service said on Saturday.

Some 72,818 people had been tested as of 0900 GMT, with 5,018 positive, up from 3,983 the previous day.

20:25 - Turkey has announced the death of 12 more patients, bringing the death toll from the novel coronavirus to 21. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter the number of infections has risen to 947, with 277 new cases of COVID-19 detected Saturday.

The ministry also announced a 15-minute rapid test kit was being distributed across Turkey.

20:05 - Morocco has banned movement between cities as of midnight to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

19:15 - GRAPHIC: Some 1.2 billion learners around the world have seen their education disrupted because of the coronavirus outbreak.

18:30 - Yemen has suspended congregational prayers in mosques over coronavirus fears.

18:25 - France reports 112 more coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 562.

18:20 - Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has ordered a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. to help prevent coronavirus infections, it said in a statement on Saturday.
Libya has not officially confirmed any cases of the coronavirus inside its borders. 

18:00 - The UAE shut beaches, parks, pools, cinemas and gyms from Sunday for two weeks over coronavirus concerns, the state news agency WAM said on Saturday. MORE HERE.

17:30 - Lebanon's PM Hassan Diab addressed the nation on Saturday and said not enough Lebanese people are taking the preventative measures seriously enough. FULL STORY HERE.

17:15 - Italy’s tally of coronavirus cases and deaths keeps rising, with new day-to-day highs: 793 dead and 6,557 new cases.

17:05 - Qatar records 11 new cases of coronavirus infections as total number of cases reaches 481.

16:40 -  Libya's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) said on Saturday that it welcomed a call for a humanitarian pause in fighting to allow the country to focus on the danger from the coronavirus.
The United Nations and some individual countries had called on warring parties to stop fighting to make it easier to deal with the virus, although no cases have yet been confirmed in Libya.

16:35 - Algeria's Health Ministry reports rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus to 139 from 95.

16:30 - Saudi state grain buyer SAGO says that 81,000 tons of flour are in storage and ready to be supplied to the market, this excludes household packages and daily production.

16:25 - The death toll from an outbreak of coronavirus in the northern region of Lombardy, which has borne the brunt of Italy's contagion, has risen by 546 in a day to 3,095, officials said on Saturday.
It is the highest daily increase since the outbreak emerged.
Lombardy's head of welfare, Giulio Gallera, said the number of cases in the region, which includes Italy's financial capital Milan, had increased by 3,251 to 25,515.
On Friday, Italy's death toll stood at 4,032, the highest in the world. 

16:17 - Canada's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 13 from 12 the previous day, with confirmed cases rising to 1,099, a government official said.

15:45 - Britain's National Health Service (NHS) has struck a deal with the country's independent hospitals that will see more beds, ventilators and thousands of extra healthcare staff made available from next week to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

NHS England said on Saturday that nearly 20,000 fully qualified staff will be joining the health service's response to the pandemic, helping manage an expected surge in cases.

Photo: Reuters

15:10 - Morocco has suspended all of its train services starting from Monday due to the virus outbreak.

14:40 - Dubai Municipality has begun a program of cleaning and sterilising roads in the emirate as part of its measures against the virus. FULL STORY HERE.

14:20 - Britain on Saturday urged people to act responsibly when they shop for food and stop hoarding so that there was enough for health workers fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

"Be responsible when you shop and think of others," Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice told reporters.

"Buying more than you need means that others may be left without and it is making life more difficult for those front line workers, such as our doctors and nurses and NHS support staff," Eustice said.

During the coronavirus crisis, manufacturers have produced around 50% more food than they usually do, Eustice said.

14:20 - Switzerland reported 6,100 coronavirus infections, some 25% more than a day earlier, and 56 deaths, the Swiss health ministry said, as hospitals in the canton of Ticino that borders on hard-hit Italy were under pressure.

14:10 - The British government is hiring former Nestle executive Chris Tyas to oversee a "war room" set up to ensure the country's food security as the coronavirus crisis deepens, Sky News reported on Saturday.

13:45 - Spain reported a 32 percent spike in new deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the country total to 1,326 fatalities, the second highest in Europe after Italy.

13:30 - The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare confirmed the country's first coronavirus death, saying that an elderly patient in the capital had died.

13:29 - A plane from China carrying 500,000 masks to help Greece combat the coronavirus outbreak landed at Athens International Airport.

13:15 - Abu Dhabi’s Etihad announced that it was temporarily suspending flights to the Pakistani cities of Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore from March 21.

The airline also announced that services to Brussels, Belgium will be be temporarily suspended from March 22 and that services to Zurich, Switzerland will also be temporarily suspended from March 24. 

13:10 - Turkey extended measures against the coronavirus on Saturday, suspended flights with 46 more countries and banning picnics and barbecues, as the number of cases has roughly doubled every day for a week.
The death toll in Turkey due to the coronavirus rose to nine, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Friday, after five elderly patients died of the highly contagious respiratory illness.
The number of confirmed cases in the country has surged since the first case was announced last week, reaching 670 on Friday.

13:05 – The UAE has reported 13 new coronavirus cases and 38 recoveries.

12:45 – Saudi health ministry has reported 48 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infected cases to 392. The ministry has also confirmed eight new recovered cases, bringing the total number of recoveries to 16.

12:00 – Algeria has closed all coffee shops and restaurants due to coronavirus.

11:45 – Egypt's Ministry of Awqaf has stopped Friday prayers in all mosques for two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

11:30 – Egypt said it will close churches in the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

11:25 – Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus epidemic soared on Saturday to 1,326 from 1,002 on Friday, according to the country’s Health Ministry latest data.
The number of registered cases in the country rose to 24,926 on Saturday from 19,980 in the previous tally announced on Friday.

10:30 –Tunisia announced the suspension of internal flights and urges citizens to adhere to isolation measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

09:55 – Angola has announced its first cases of the new coronavirus.

09:55 – Germany confirmed 2,705 more cases of COVID-19, raising toll to 16,662.

09:45 - ThenNumber of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel reached 883.

09:30 – Iran has announced another 123 deaths from the new coronavirus, bringing its overall toll to 1,556 amid 20,610 confirmed cases. The Health Ministry announced the latest figures Saturday. Iran is struggling to combat the worst outbreak in the Middle East, and has faced widespread criticism for its slow response.

09:15 – Kuwait health ministry has reported 17 new coronavirus cases in the country, bringing the total number of infected patients to 176.

08:50 – Indonesia confirmed 81 new cases of coronavirus, taking total to 450. The health ministry also said the death toll is now at 38 with six new deaths on Saturday.

08:00 - Lebanon’s coronavirus cases rose to 201 on Saturday, a Health Ministry source told local daily The Daily Star.

08:00 – The French army has prepared hospitals to help combat the spread of coronavirus in the country.

07:45 – Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has said staying at home instructions and travel restrictions will apply for 2 to 3 weeks only. Rouhani also said he expects improvement in situation created by coronavirus outbreak within 2 weeks.

07:05 – Al Arabiya reported four new cases on Monday in Palestine. Earlier on Friday, Israeli daily Haaretz had reported a tally of 48 cases in the West Bank.

06:35 – Oman health ministry has reported four new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of infected patients to 52.

06:25 – The UAE health ministry reported five new coronavirus recoveries in the country.

05:40 – The Philippine health ministry confirmed 32 new cases of coronavirus, raising toll to 262. One new fatality was reported.

05:01 – Jordan has started its nationwide curfew with sirens on Saturday morning, according to witnesses and officials, to combat the spread of the virus.

04:45 – Thailand has recorded 89 new coronavirus infections, the country’s highest one day rise.

03:50 – Singapore has reported its first two coronavirus fatalities, the health minister said on Saturday.

03:25 – Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez said on Saturday the country will enter quarantine from Tuesday until April 13.

02:45 – US senators and White House negotiators said they will resume talks on Saturday for coronavirus economic stimulus bill.

01:20 – South Korea has reported 147 new cases of coronavirus, bringing total to 8,799.

00:20 – Morocco has confirmed new cases of COVID-19 on early Saturday, raising toll to 86.

Sunday, March 20 (All times in GMT)

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

Initial investigations point to negligence as cause of Beirut blast

Updated 38 min 28 sec ago

Initial investigations point to negligence as cause of Beirut blast

  • 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures
  • A source said a fire had started at warehouse 9 of the port and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored

BEIRUT: Initial investigations indicate years of inaction and negligence over the storage of highly explosive material in Beirut port caused the blast that killed over 100 people on Tuesday, an official source familiar with the findings said.
The prime minister and presidency said on Tuesday that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.
"It is negligence," the official source told Reuters, adding that the storage safety issue had been before several committees and judges and "nothing was done" to issue an order to remove or dispose of the highly combustible material.
The source said a fire had started at warehouse 9 of the port and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored.
Tuesday's explosion was the most powerful ever suffered by Beirut, a city is still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a deep financial crisis rooted in decades of corruption and economic mismanagement.
Badri Daher, Director General of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI on Wednesday that customs had sent six documents to the judiciary warning that the material posed a danger.
"We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why," Daher said.
Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the ammonium nitrate six months ago warned that if it was not moved it would "blow up all of Beirut".
According to two documents seen by Reuters, Lebanese Customs had asked the judiciary in 2016 and 2017 to ask the "concerned maritime agency" to re-export or approve the sale of the ammonium nitrate, removed from the a cargo vessel, Rhosus, and deposited in warehouse 12, to ensure port safety.
One of the documents cited similar requests in 2014 and 2015.
"A local and international investigation needs to be conducted into the incident, given the scale and the circumstances under which these goods were brought into the ports," said Ghassan Hasbani, former deputy prime minister and a member of the Lebanese Forces party., an industry network dealing with legal cases, had said in a 2015 report that the Rhosus, sailing under a Moldovan flag, docked in Beirut in September 2013 when it had technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique with 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
It said that, upon inspection, the vessel was forbidden from sailing and shortly afterwards it was abandoned by its owners, leading to various creditors coming forward with legal claims.
"Owing to the risks associated with retaining the ammonium nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port's warehouses," it added.