The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 11 June

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 11 June
In today's roundup: Impending health crisis in the Sinai, outbreaks in UAE jails, Egypt opens gyms but prolongs curfew, Emirates lays off thousands more staff, and Iran's second wave climbs.
5 min read
10 June, 2020
Today's coronavirus daily update [TNA]
Five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 11 June.

1. Egypt's Sinai threatened with humanitarian catastrophe as coronavirus spreads

The health system in Egypt's North Sinai Governorate will not be able to cope with an increase in coronavirus cases, medical staff have warned.

A number of healthcare workers in the restive peninsula have called on the Egyptian government to provide the necessary medical equipment needed to tackle a Covid-19 outbreak, as the number of cases continue to climb, The New Arab's Arabic-language service reported.

A health official source in the governorate told The New Arab that "the novel coronavirus is still under control in North Sinai".

But the same source added that "the medical system in North Sinai lacks the equipment for coronavirus testing, as it is not available in any hospital within the governorate's borders".

"This forces the directorate to transfer samples to health laboratories in Ismailia and wait for the test results. During that period, the tested person remains under medical isolation in one of two hospitals (Al-Arish or Bir al-Abed) until they receive their test result," the source said.

The source pointed to "a shortage of medical supplies such as protective clothing for medical personnel, in addition to there not being specialised training for medical workers to deal with suspected coronavirus cases".

Medical sources at Al-Areesh General Hospital confirmed to The New Arab the death of two Egyptian citizens last Monday of suspected coronavirus.

The same sources said there were eight new suspected cases last Sunday, the largest number since the beginning of the pandemic.

Read more here

2. At least three UAE jails hit by coronavirus outbreaks, says Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the United Arab Emirates to urgently address an outbreak of the coronavirus in at least three prisons.

The rights group said that relatives of prisoners near Abu Dhabi as well as another in Dubai say that prisoners have been denied adequate medical care and that authorities are not providing information to inmates or their families about the outbreaks of the coronavirus inside the detention centres. They reported overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in the prisons.

Family members say prison authorities transferred those exhibiting symptoms to unknown locations without testing or medical care for weeks. Relatives also said Emirati prison authorities did not increase supplies of soap or hand sanitiser and did not distribute gloves or masks to detainees.

"Crowded, unsanitary prison conditions and widespread denial of adequate medical care are nothing new in the UAE’s notorious detention facilities, but the ongoing pandemic is an additional serious threat to prisoners’ well-being," said Michael Page, HRW's Middle East deputy director.

"The best way for UAE authorities to allay concerns of prisoners’ family members is to allow inspection by independent, international monitors," he added.

Page called on the Emirati authorities to be "forthright" about the situation and act quickly in order to reduce the risk posed to prisoners.

Read more here

3. Egypt re-opens gyms, but tightens curfew as cases rise

Egypt has given a green light for the partial re-opening of gyms and sports clubs, after they were closed for nearly three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, signalling a resumption of competitive sports soon.

Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi told the ON Time Sports channel that sports clubs and youth centres would be allowed to reopen on 15 June.

He said that initially only members of staff would be permitted to return to the these facilities, while on Sunday, more information would be provided on when they can open their doors to the public.

Sobhi added that "preventative measures" would be taken to ensure the safety of staff at gyms and sports clubs, and that the partial reopening was a step towards the resumption of competitive sports.

Meanwhile, the government will extend a night-time curfew by a further two weeks, after a rise in infection numbers.

The health ministry has so far recorded 1,342 deaths out of 38,284 confirmed cases. 

Since late last month, it has been reporting more than 1,000 new cases a day. 

Read more here

4. Emirates in new round of lay-offs after coronavirus hits finances

Dubai-based carrier Emirates enacted another round of job cuts after suffering huge financial losses due to the coronavirus epidemic.

A second day of redundancies were made Wednesday following the dismissal of thousands of pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff a day earlier, according Reuters.

The airline did not comment on the reports of more job cuts but the agency reported that a source said more lay-offs were expected for Airbus (AIR.PA) A380 and Boeing (BA.N) 777 pilots.

Some 600 pilots and 6,500 cabin crew members were let go by the airline this week, The Telegraph reported, noting that sources confirmed that employees were taken in groups to the meetings where they were told the news.

A minority of the national carrier’s 3,000 engineers were also affected by the move, Bloomberg added.

Read more here

5. Iran says virus cases top 180,000, as Rouhani urges citizens to abide by guidelines

More than 180,000 people have been infected in Iran's coronavirus outbreak since it first emerged nearly four months ago, an official said on Thursday.

As the figures were announced, President Hassan Rouhani called on Iranians to stick to guidelines aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19.

"If everyone follows the health instructions exactly, then all jobs can be reopened," he said in remarks broadcast on state television.

"We are progressing slowly and step by step (because we don't want) our people to think that the coronavirus era has passed.

"This would pose a major health problem for us," Rouhani said.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 2,238 new infections in the past 24 hours took the total to 180,156.

She said 78 new deaths brought the overall toll to 8,584.

Iran reported its first Covid-19 cases on February 19 - two deaths in the Shia holy city of Qom.

The government has struggled to contain what quickly became the Middle East's deadliest coronavirus outbreak.

Since April, however, it has gradually lifted health protocols in order to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.

That has coincided with a fresh surge in cases, which the government denies amounts to a second wave, saying they are due to increased testing.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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