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

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 11 April
Iran's economy slowly reopens, renowned Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji dies of coronavirus, Lebanese expats continue journey home on return flights and Egyptians disrupt virus victim's burial in today's roundup.
4 min read
11 April, 2020
The five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic in the MENA [TNA]
Here are five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 11 April:

1. Iran begins lifting restrictions after brief virus lockdown

Iran began reopening government offices on Saturday after a brief nationwide lockdown to help contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, which has killed more than 4,300 people in the country.

Authorities had ordered most government agencies and all non-essential businesses to remain closed for a week after the Nowruz holiday ended on 4 April.

Government offices outside Iran's capital, Tehran, reopened on Saturday with a third of all employees working from home, state media reported. Women who have young children were given priority in deciding who works remotely.

Businesses outside the capital were also allowed to reopen on Saturday, the first day of the work week.

Businesses in Tehran will be allowed to reopen next Saturday, provided they register with authorities and follow guidelines on social distancing set out by the Health Ministry. Government offices in the capital will reopen with two-thirds of employees coming in.

The Health Ministry meanwhile reported another 125 deaths, bringing the overall toll to 4,357. Iran has reported more than 70,000 confirmed cases, and authorities say more than 40,000 have recovered. Read more here. 

2. Father of modern Iraqi architecture dies of coronavirus

Rifat Chadirji, known as the father of modern Iraqi architecture, died late on Friday in the United Kingdom after contracting the novel coronavirus, friends and Iraqi officials said on Saturday.

The 93-year-old architect and photographer is credited with designing some of Iraq's most well-known structures, including the iconic "Freedom Monument" in the now protest hub of Baghdad's Tahrir Square its name.

"He was a giant of 20th century Iraq," said Caecilia Pieri, a scholar focusing on Baghdad's modern architecture who knew Chadirji well. 

Top Iraqi officials including President Barham Saleh and caretaker premier Adel Abdel Mahdi mourned him on Saturday.

"With the death of Rifat Chadirji, architecture in Iraq and the world has lost its modern lung," Saleh wrote. Read more here. 

3. Lebanon begins fourth round of expatriate returns

A plane carrying Lebanese expatriates landed in Lebanon from Kuwait on Saturday afternoon, the state-run National News Agency reported.

It was the fourth round of returns for Lebanese nationals who had been stranded abroad due to global coronavirus lockdown measures.

Twenty-seven passengers on the return flights have tested positive for coronavirus out of 1,348 people who have returned so far.

Another three flights carrying stranded citizens were expected to arrive later on Saturday.

The Foreign Ministry estimates 20,000 Lebanese abroad want to return home. Read more here.

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4. Fearful Egyptians disrupt burial of virus victim

Egyptian police arrested a dozen people and fired tear gas in a Nile Delta village on Saturday, as a crowd protested the burial of a Covid-19 victim, a security source said.

Relatives had taken the body of a retired doctor from her home in Daqahliya north of Cairo to the family vault in the village of Shubra al-Bahou.

But before the burial, dozens of villagers protested outside the cemetery, fearing the spread of the virus if the 65-year-old was interred there.

The woman's family were turned back from another nearby cemetery before returning to Shubra al-Bahou.

Security forces then dispersed an angry crowd with teargas, making 12 arrests, before the woman was buried.

So far, Egypt has confirmed 1,794 Covid-19 cases and 135 deaths.

5. IMF grants $745 mn to Tunisia for virus response

The International Monetary Fund approved a $745 million emergency loan for Tunisia as it continues to roll out an unprecedented number of aid packages to countries battling the coronavirus.

"These resources will help address urgent fiscal and balance of payments needs stemming from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic" in Tunisia, the IMF said in a statement. 

The nation has been hit hard by the virus, and the economy is expected to contract by 4.3 percent this year, the fund said, which would be the deepest recession since Tunisia's independence in 1956.

The funding will be used to finance health measures, strengthen social safety nets and help businesses weather the crisis.

Tunisia has officially declared more 600 cases of Covid-19, including 25 deaths, since reporting its first case at the beginning of March. Read more here.

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