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Saudi locks down Qatif as coronavirus surges in the Gulf

Saudi Arabia has imposed a temporary lockdown on its eastern Qatif area, home to a large Shia-Muslim population, to prevent the spread of coronavirus after recording four more cases that raised the total to 11. The move risks stirring resentment in Qatif, which has been a flashpoint between the Sunni-dominated Saudi government and minority Shia…

Saudi locks down Qatif as coronavirus surges in the Gulf

Saudi Arabia has imposed a temporary lockdown on its eastern Qatif area, home to a large Shia-Muslim population, to prevent the spread of coronavirus after recording four more cases that raised the total to 11.
The move risks stirring resentment in Qatif, which has been a flashpoint between the Sunni-dominated Saudi government and minority Shia in the country who complain of discrimination and marginalisation, accusations the government denies.
Saudi Arabia will suspend all educational and Quranic activities at mosques starting on Monday to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, state television reported.
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Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said on Sunday all the individuals diagnosed with the disease are from Qatif. Saudi authorities have previously said those infected have either been to Iran or interacted with people who visited the Islamic Republic, home to important Shia holy sites.
The restrictions in Qatif could also raise tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran after Riyadh on Thursday denounced Tehran for granting Saudi citizens entry amid the coronavirus outbreak. Saudi Arabia has banned travel to Iran and said legal action will be taken against any Saudi national travelling there.

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Iran has emerged as an epicentre for the disease in the Middle East. It has reported 194 deaths from the virus on Sunday, putting it on a par with Italy as the country with the highest death toll outside China.
Vital facilities
The Saudi interior ministry said it temporarily halted movement in and out of the oil-producing Qatif region while ensuring returning residents could reach their homes and that commercial supplies to the province continue.
“Work at all public and private institutions is halted as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the disease, with the exception of vital facilities that provide security services and necessary provisions,” a ministry statement said.
The lockdown is not expected to have any effect on the kingdom’s oil production, two industry sources told Reuters news agency.
Cement blocks were placed on the main road to Qatif, a resident said, declining to be named because of sensitivities.
The Saudi health ministry earlier said the newly diagnosed people, three of whom are women, interacted with another case reported previously who returned from Iran via the United Arab Emirates (UAE) but did not disclose his visit to the authorities.
On Saturday, the Saudi government restricted land crossings with the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain to commercial trucks only and said passenger arrivals will be limited to three Saudi airports.
The Qatif lockdown comes after the kingdom suspended the Umrah year-round pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in western Saudi Arabia.
The unprecedented suspension of the Umrah has raised uncertainty over the annual Hajj pilgrimage, scheduled for the end of July.
The pilgrimages, a major source of revenue, could also be a source of contagion and the move mirrors a precautionary approach across the Gulf to cancel mass gatherings – from concerts to sporting events.
More cancellations
Several other Gulf states recorded new infections on Sunday.
Kuwait reported two more cases, raising the total to 64. Its central bank announced a 10 million dinar ($32.79m) fund to support state efforts to fight the virus.
Qatar recorded three more infections, bringing the total number of victims to 15.
Bahrain said its Formula One Grand Prix will go ahead this month without spectators, a blow to its tourism sector.
Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad’s announcement was carried by the state-run Bahrain News Agency. He said the decision was “to preserve the safety of citizens, residents and racing fans”. The race is scheduled for March 22.

In Oman, all events at the Royal Opera House in the capital Muscat, scheduled for March and April, have been cancelled along with the tours of the site, state news agency ONA reported.
Middle East stock markets fell sharply on Sunday amid plummeting demand for crude oil and OPEC’s inability to agree on a production cut. The wider region now has more than 6,900 confirmed cases of the virus, the majority in hard-hit Iran.
Infected cruise liner
A 60-year-old German tourist died in Egypt on Sunday, becoming its first fatality from the new coronavirus, the health ministry announced.
The man was taken to hospital with fever after arriving in Hurghada from Luxor on March 6, and was placed in intensive care but refused to be transferred to a designated isolation hospital, the ministry said.
Egyptian crew and foreign passengers on a Nile cruise ship with 45 suspected coronavirus cases disembarked on Sunday in the southern city of Luxor.
The health ministry said the 45 would be quarantined even though 11 tested negative in follow-up tests.
The A Sara docked in Luxor days after authorities were alerted that a foreign tourist who previously disembarked had contracted the virus and infected others on board. On Saturday, Health Minister Hala Zayed said 33 people on the ship had tested positive without showing any symptoms.
The boat was carrying 171 people – 101 foreigners and 70 Egyptian crew – Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said on Saturday.
He did not specify the foreigners’ nationalities but said their respective embassies had been contacted.
It was not immediately clear where the other 126 passengers and crew went after disembarking.
On Sunday, Zayed and other officials travelled to Luxor to follow up on quarantine procedures at the city’s airport as part of Egypt’s response to the virus, a government statement said.
The city of Luxor, home to some of Egypt’s most spectacular monuments, is among the country’s top tourist draws.
Besides the cruise ship cases, Egypt has detected three cases of the virus, the first of which was announced on February 14. The health ministry said last week the first patient, a Chinese national, had been released after recovery.
The other two cases, a Canadian working in an oil company and an Egyptian who returned from Serbia through France, were still undergoing treatment, according to the ministry.
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Sudan locks down capital Khartoum after coronavirus cases rise

People arrive at al-Raza Mosque to perform Friday prayer ahead of the three-week lockdown [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency] Sudan’s capital Khartoum has been placed under a three-week lockdown following a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. The decision came as the country’s Federal Ministry of Health on Saturday reported 30 new cases over the past 24 hours, bringing…

Sudan locks down capital Khartoum after coronavirus cases rise

People arrive at al-Raza Mosque to perform Friday prayer ahead of the three-week lockdown [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency]
Sudan’s capital Khartoum has been placed under a three-week lockdown following a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.
The decision came as the country’s Federal Ministry of Health on Saturday reported 30 new cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 66.
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“Twenty-seven of these cases were reported in Khartoum state, while for the first time two cases were confirmed in White Nile state and one in Gazeera state,” the ministry said in a statement.
The total deaths from the coronavirus in the country rose to 10, as four more people died in the past 24 hours, it added.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said while the lockdown is in place, people will still be allowed to go out for a few hours every day to get essentials but strictly within their neighbourhood. “[The government has] put the military, police and security forces on each bridge to make sure people don’t cross from one part of the capital to the other,” she said, adding that years of conflict has taken its toll in Sudan’s health infrastructure sector and that the government has said it is facing severe shortages in testing kits and personal protection equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.
“The prime minister has made a plea to the UN to make sure that it supports the government to be able to combat the disease,” she said.
“We know from the UN economic commission that there will 300,000 people in Africa that will suffer and die from the coronavirus and we know that Sudan will be one of the countries affected because of the infrastructure.”

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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UK locks down for three weeks to slow spread of coronavirus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered people to stay at home to try to halt the spread of coronavirus, closing alll but essential shops, and warning that those who do not follow the rules will face fines. “From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at…

UK locks down for three weeks to slow spread of coronavirus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered people to stay at home to try to halt the spread of coronavirus, closing alll but essential shops, and warning that those who do not follow the rules will face fines.
“From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: you must stay at home,” Johnson said on Monday in a prerecorded televised address to the nation, replacing his usual daily news conference.
As deaths from the virus in the United Kingdom jumped to 335, Johnson said people would only be allowed to leave their homes to exercise, shop for basic necessities, address a medical need, provide care for others, or travel to and from work where absolutely necessary.
Almost 7,000 people have been infected with coronavirus so far in the country, home to about 66 million.
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“That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home,” Johnson said, adding that people should not meet friends or family members who do not live in their homes.
“If you don’t follow the rules, the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings,” he warned.
The new measures would be reviewed in three weeks, and relaxed if possible.
The government will close all shops selling non-essential goods, Johnson said, including clothing stores, as well as other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship.
Advice to stay at home and avoid social gatherings went unheeded over the weekend by millions who took advantage of sunny weather to flock to parks and beauty spots, ignoring instructions to stay two metres (six feet) apart.
Under the new measures, the government will stop all gatherings of more than two people in public who do not live together, and stop all social events, including weddings and baptisms but not funerals.
Parks would remain open for exercise but gatherings would be dispersed, Johnson said.
“It brings the UK in line with measures seen in plenty of other countries around Europe,” said Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands. “For much of this crisis, the UK has been a step or two behind other countries. There were plenty of people in the UK saying, ‘Why can’t we see the same measures?’.”
Italy, now the global epicentre of the crisis with most coronavirus deaths and a quickly rising number of patients, is currently under complete lockdown. 
Spain and France have similar measures in place to contain the spread of the infection.
“Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope; because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses,” Johnson said in his address.
Separately, an emergency bill giving authorities sweeping powers to tackle the outbreak, including the right to detain people and put them in isolation to protect public health, passed through the House of Commons.
The legislation will go before the House of Lords on Tuesday.
Earlier, in a pleading request to increase supplies of personal protective equipment, more than 6,000 front-line doctors warned they felt like “cannon fodder” and were being asked to put their lives at risk with out-of-date masks, and low stocks of equipment.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted there had been issues, but promised action was being taken. He said the army would drive trucks throughout the day and night to get supplies to medical staff.
“It’s like a war effort – it is a war against this virus and so the army have been incredibly helpful in getting those logistics so we can get the supplies to protect people on the front line,” he told the BBC, saying the health service now had 12,000 ventilators, 7,000 more than at the start of the crisis.
The government on Monday also urged all Britons travelling abroad to return home. However, this would not be possible for all, since some countries have closed their borders.
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