The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 4 June

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 4 June
In today's roundup: Iran sees record rise in new cases, Israel suspends parliament after MK tests positive and fears mount of second wave of infections in Saudi Arabia.
5 min read
05 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 4 June.

1. Iran reports most new virus cases since outbreak began

Iran announced 3,574 new coronavirus infections Thursday, the most in one day since the pandemic started, as authorities increase health warnings following a resurgence in recorded cases.

After hitting a near two-month low in early May, novel coronavirus infections have been on a rising trajectory in the Islamic republic, which is battling the Middle East's deadliest outbreak of the disease.

Thursday was the fourth straight day that the daily caseload had topped 3,000.

The previous high was 3,186, recorded on March 30, at the height of the initial outbreak.

The health ministry has been taking no chances and has stepped up a public health campaign in recent days.

"Not respecting social distancing and public and personal hygiene rules, along with undertaking unnecessary travel, can have irreparable consequences," warned an announcement running on repeat on the state television information channel.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said Thursday that 59 people had died of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, taking Iran's overall official toll to 8,071.

Read more here

2. Israel suspends parliament sessions after Palestinian lawmaker contracts coronavirus

Israel closed its parliament on Thursday and suspended all upcoming sessions after a Palestinian parliamentarian tested posted for the novel coronavirus, Reuters reported.

Lawmaker Sami Abou Shahadeh, a member of the Arab Joint List alliance representing the Balad Party, tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

Israel's parliament, known as the Knesset, announced that non-essential staff had been asked to stay home. All of Thursday's committee meetings were also postponed.

The measures are "pending an investigation of the ramifications" of lawmaker Abou Shahadeh testing positive for coronavirus. Abou Shahadeh entered quarantine two days after his driver tested positive, The Times of Israel reported.

"I appeal to all of those who have been in my immediate vicinity to self-isolate and get tested," Abou Shahadeh said on Twitter.

"The virus is still among us and a return to so-called routine helps the virus spread with greater magnitude and speed."

In Israel's most recent parliamentary election, the Joint List won a record 15 seats.

Abou Shahadeh told Israel's Kan public broadcaster that he had been in contact with thousands of people.

"I went to comfort mourners and also to family events and demonstrations. I was on committees, in the plenary and even the cafeteria," he said.

The Palestinian lawmaker visited the mourning tent of autistic Palestinian man Iyad el-Hallak who was shot dead on the weekend by Israeli officers in Jerusalem's Old City, Walla news site reported. 

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3. Egyptian doctor, father of three carried out FGM under 'guise of coronavirus vaccine'

Egypt's prosecutor-general has brought criminal charges against a father for the genital mutilation of his three daughters, while likewise charging a physician who allegedly performed the illegal procedure.

"The doctor went to their (the girls) home under the guise that he would vaccinate them against the coronavirus," the prosecutor-general said in a Wednesday statement.

A forensic report revealed "the excision of ... reproductive organs".

Attempts to create a coronavirus vaccine have not yet moved beyond early trials.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been banned in Egypt since 2008, but the procedure remains rife in the Muslim majority country, with many believing it promotes women's chastity.

Investigators said the doctor had given the girls - all under the age of 18 - a general anaesthetic, according to the prosecutors' statement.

"They lost consciousness and when they woke up they were shocked to find their legs bound together and a sensation of pain in their genitals," the statement said.

The three minors notified their mother, who is divorced from their father.

Investigators spoke to the mother and also questioned the girls' aunt, who corroborated their account, according to the prosecution statement.

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4. Saudi Arabia sees huge spike in coronavirus cases as fears mount of second wave

Saudi Arabia noted a worrying Covid-19 spike on Wednesday with 2,171 new cases recorded and fears of a second wave of infections hitting the kingdom.

The ministry of health had reported a eight-day decline in Covid-19 numbers - all under 2,000 cases - until Wednesday's announcement.

Riyadh saw the most new cases with 683, while there were 418 in Jeddah and 279 in Mecca, according to local media Saudi Gazette.

Saudi Arabia has recently lifted restrictions put in place at the start of the epidemic, which has included curtailments to travel and curfews.

Mosques were opened in the kingdom this week with social distancing measures in place.

Eastern Province, which was hit hardest of the start of the epidemic, will see 205 mosques open later this week.

Riyadh municipality announced on Wednesday that 8,787 commercial businesses would be prohibited from opening until at least 20 June, which includes barbers, beauty salons, and cinemas.

Saudi Arabia has also restarted domestic flights, after restrictions on travel between different areas of the kingdom.

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5. Women in Saudi Arabia struggle for work due to coronavirus pandemic

The tourism and entertainment industry – both leading industries in Saudi Arabia – are struggling under the burden of fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic, and women are bearing the brunt.

The pandemic, which has caused the deaths of hundreds of people in the Middle Eastern kingdom, has damaged its non-religious tourism industry.

For many women in Saudi Arabia, Covid-19 stuttered their financial opportunities.

Abeer al-Howayan, a 31-year-old chemistry graduate initially wanted to do something in the science industry but eventually turned to selling homemade cakes when she could not land a job in the industry.

Later the 31-year-old was chosen for a government training programme to support a $20 million flagship tourism project in the kingdom’s northwestern region, Reuters reported.

She had initially travelled to France on the behest of the kingdom and trained in artisanal soap-making, before selling her creations at a booth near Madain Saleh, and online.

The advent of Covid-19 put a stop to her financial career, and she, like many women, became unemployed.

"It's very tough, but I keep telling myself things will get better after corona. One has to remain optimistic," Howayan told the publication.

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