The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 3 June

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 3 June
In today's roundup: UAE reopens despite a rise in cases, Yemen's coronavirus efforts run short of funding, Gazans celebrate the reopening of mosques and analysis on Dubai's economic future.
6 min read
01 June, 2020
Top stories from the Middle East [TNA]
Five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 3 June.

1. UAE reopens malls, shops despite rise in coronavirus cases

Malls and shops in the UAE are ready to return to "100 percent capacity", local media reported on Wednesday, after weeks of lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Gulf state has slowly re-opened its retail and service sectors after curfews had a devastating effect on the economy.

On Tuesday, the UAE government sent a notice to malls allowing a return to normal with tenants expected to ease restrictions this week.

Social distancing measures will still be in place, such as two metre spaces in queues, but there are fears about the easing of restrictions when coronavirus cases continue to rise.

The UAE announced a rise in 596 new cases reported on Tuesday and three Covid-related deaths.

Malls were opened at 30 percent capacity during Ramadan, then 70 percent during Eid, and now at 100 percent in a bid to spur growth.

"Single-store retailers haven't seen much happening – we are hopeful of some improvement now that Dubai has allowed 100 percent capacity back at malls," a retail industry source told Gulf News.

Around 70 percent of Dubai businesses have said they predict to go out of business in the next six months, due to coronavirus lockdowns and low oil prices.

Read more here.

2. Yemen's programmes fighting coronavirus might stop by end of June, warns UN

The United Nations warned Wednesday that its programmes to fight the coronavirus in war-torn Yemen might have to stop by the end the month unless they get an immediate injection of cash.

The warning comes a day after a UN appeal for countries to fund emergency aid in the Arab world's poorest nation fell a billion dollars short of what aid agencies needed - $2.41 billion - to cover essential activities from June to December.

"This will severely handicap efforts to contain the outbreak, which is already spreading rapidly," said Hayat Abu Saleh, a spokesperson for the UN Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

At least 31 major UN programs in Yemen, covering essentially every sector, from food to health care and nutrition, were at a "serious risk of significant reduction or closure," she said.

The coronavirus is threatening to decimate Yemen's health care system, already ravaged by more than five years of civil war.

Abu Saleh predicted the UN would likely start winding down some of its disease outbreak and control programmes next month, including efforts to contain cholera, malaria and dengue fever, among other diseases.

These programmes help to protect 18 million people, she said.

Abu Saleh also voiced concerns about 360,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition that the UN is trying to assist.

"Without new funds, these programmes will see severe cuts starting in July," she said.

Tuesday's conference raised $1.35 billion - half of what is needed and half of the $2.6 billion that countries pledged at the same conference last year.

Read more here.

3. Joy in Gaza as mosques reopen after months-long coronavirus closure

Mosques in the Gaza Strip re-opened on Wednesday after a 70-day closure due to the coronavirus, with one worshipper saying he was "overjoyed" despite fears over the pandemic.

Wearing a black face mask, an imam in Gaza City led the call to prayer as mosques re-opened across the besieged Palestinian enclave with health measures in place.

Worshippers were told to wear face masks inside mosques, which would be regularly disinfected as a precautionary measure, Gaza's religious affairs ministry said.

Children and sick people were told not to attend prayers. 

In Gaza City, worshipper Khader Mussa said he was "overjoyed" to attend dawn prayers but had also been careful to protect his health.

"I got there just two minutes before the start of prayer to avoid contact with other worshippers and then left at the end, without shaking hands with anyone," the 40-year-old said. 

The Palestinian enclave has registered around 60 coronavirus cases and one death, all among Gazans returning to the territory who have been quarantined on arrival.

After the virus was first detected on 22 March, mosques, restaurants and universities were closed. 

Some mosques opened their doors 10 days ago for the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, which celebrates the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, but Wednesday marked a full reopening.

Read more here.

4. Somalia facing 'triple threat' of coronavirus, floods, and locusts, UN warns

Somalia's stability is coming undone by a "triple threat" of coronavirus, swarms of desert locusts, and devastating floods, the UN's emergency response body said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia warned that the situation could reverse political and security gains made in recent years.

"Somalia's coping mechanisms are significantly less than those of the neighbouring countries. Therefore, the impact [of floods, locusts and Covid-19] is not simply humanitarian but has the potential to reverse some of the political and security gains that the international community has invested in over the past decade," said Justin Brady, OCHA Somalia's head of office.

"We need to continue to work together and expand the coordination with the private sector, civil society and have more engagement with the diaspora."

Recent floods have displaced some 500,000 people in the country's interior, at a time when a severe locust infestation is threatening food supplies.

Read more here.

5. In-depth: Dubai's economy faces fight for survival in post-pandemic future

Renowned for its abundant wealth, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and particularly its second richest emirate Dubai face considerable economic setbacks from the coronavirus, which may lead to another realignment of its economy similar to the previous financial crisis over a decade ago. 

Like many countries, the loss of demand for crude oil and subsequent shock to oil prices, along with global lockdowns, will impact the UAE in both its oil and non-oil economy, despite its strong financial reserves and small population. It may face even greater losses compared to the 2007-08 crisis.

"Economic indicators suggest that the collapse in the second quarter of 2020 is much deeper and more severe than the collapse of the financial crisis of 2008," Fatima Saeed al Shamsi, Deputy Executive Director for Administrative Affairs at Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, told The New Arab.

"While these are expected to recover faster than the financial crisis, economists expect the negative impact to continue significantly for more than two years to come and its effects will be worse than the collapse that occurred after the financial crisis."

The UAE imposed lockdown measures from mid-March to contain the virus. Meanwhile as tourism dried up, its beaches and hotels in Dubai laid empty, as did eminent structures like the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, the Palm Jumeirah, and Mall of the Emirates. 

Read more here.

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