The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 18 March

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 18 March
The coronavirus has led to a stricter clampdown in the Middle East of social gatherings. Here are five stories you need to know about coronavirus in the Middle East today.
3 min read
18 March, 2020
A daily brief on Middle East's coronavirus pandemic [TNA]
Here are five takeaways from coronavirus in the Middle East this Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia closes mosques, announces virtual G20 meeting

Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that mosques will no longer be open for prayers or Friday congregations amid measures to prevent the coronavirus spread, Reuters reported.

Saudi Arabia, which chairs the Group of 20 (G20), also announced a virtual leaders summit next week "to put forward a coordinated set of policies to protect people and safeguard the global economy".

The kingdom also suspended work in most of the country's private sector for 15 days, directing businesses to implement work-from-home policies to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Coronavirus has infected 171 people in Saudi Arabia so far.

UAE suspends visas-on-arrival

Starting Thursday, the UAE will no longer issue visas-on-arrival for travellers until further notice as part of precautionary measures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to media reports.

UAE residents and diplomats will not be affected by the measure.

According to The National, the UAE's Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship said visas-on-arrival will resume for eligible nationalities once a medical clearance process was made mandatory at the departure country.

The UAE previously suspended all entry visas, but made exceptions for those eligible for visas-on-arrival, The National reported.

Qatar Airways lays off around 200 Filipino staff

State-owned Qatar Airways laid off around 200 Filipino staff in Qatar this week as the coronavirus groups aircraft, according to media in the Philippines.

The employees, including engineers and maintenance staff, were laid off on Tuesday, according to Filipino media outlet ABS-CBN.

The report said other employees also lost their jobs, though did not provide additional details.

Before the outbreak, Qatar Airways had warned it would report its third consecutive loss this financial year.

Earlier this month, Qatar announced it has suspended flights to 14 countries, including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria so as to tackle the coronavirus.

Yemeni women rush to sew masks

A group of Yemeni women have revived the country's oldest factory to make face masks in anticipation of a coronavirus outbreak, AFP reported.

Yemen is especially vulnerable to an outbreak, as the the war-torn country's healthcare system is in tatters.

Though the situation in Yemen is described by the United Nations as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, the country has not yet registered any coronavirus cases.

The factory, located in the capital Sanaa, sees "rows of desks line a cavernous hall with women in black niqab and white gloves hunched over sewing machines meticulously assembling medical masks", according to AFP.

Unlike its Gulf neighbours, Yemen has not taken drastic measures to prevent the virus' spread. However, it is less vulnerable to imported infections, with most of the country under siege and air travel severely restricted.

On Saturday, Yemen's Houthi rebels said they would suspend passenger flights in and out of Sanaa airport for two weeks to prevent the introduction of the coronavirus.

Oman suspends all public transport

Oman halted all public transport, including buses, microbuses and ferries, according to media reports.

The restriction, effective Thursday until further notice, exclude buses and boats travelling between the governorate of Musandam and the Masirah Island.

The Sultanate's Transport Ministry stated the decision "comes out of keenness on safety of public transport users and workers against the spread of the new coronavirus".

Oman has recorded a total of 33 coronavirus cases.

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