The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 26 May

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 26 May
Saudi Arabia lifts its lockdown, Egypt's doctors lay into the government, Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity reopens and Ikea's car parks host socially distanced Eid prayers. Here's the latest.
5 min read
22 May, 2020
Here's the latest coronavirus news from the Middle East [TNA]
Here are five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 26 May:

1. Saudi Arabia begins lifting coronavirus curfew

Saudi Arabia will begin lifting restrictions enacted to tackle the coronavirus epidemic in the kingdom, saying on Tuesday it is hoping to return life to normal by next month, despite fears of a second wave of infections.

The first phase of the kingdom's re-opening will take place between 26 and 28 May and will see an easing of curfews in all areas, apart from Mecca, with cars allowed to return to the roads between 6am and 3pm.

Shops and malls will be re-opened, allowing commercial activity to resume after a bleak economic outlook for the kingdom due to coronavirus lockdowns and low oil prices.

Beauty salons, hairdressers, cinemas and gyms will remain closed.

Phase two will take place between 31 May and 20 June and will see Friday prayers at mosques allowed to take place, apart from in the city of Mecca.

Workers will return to their offices while domestic travel restrictions - including internal flights - will be lifted, but international travel restrictions will remain in place.

Restaurants, barbers, cinemas, sports clubs, gyms and other entertainment facililities will re-open and gatherings of less than 50 people allowed to take place.

The third phase, beginning 21 June, will see life return to "normal". 

Read more here

2. Egypt's doctors accuse government of mass negligence during coronavirus crisis build-up

Egypt's biggest medical union has accused the government of driving the health system towards collapse and of negligence that is resulting in a mounting death toll among doctors working on the frontlines treating Covid-19 patients.

At least 19 Egyptian doctors have died and around 350 are thought to be infected with coronavirus, according to the Egyptian Medical Syndicate (EMS).

According to official figures, there have been 783 deaths from Covid-19 among nearly 18,000 cases in Egypt.

Saturday saw the death of 32-year-old doctor Walid Yehia died on Saturday after he was unable to secure a bed in an isolation hospital.

In a scathing statement issued on Monday, the syndicate said it "holds the health ministry entirely responsible for the mounting deaths and infections among doctors due to its negligence... that is tantamount to death through a dereliction of duty".

The union warned of the "complete collapse" of the health system due to the ministry's failures during the pandemic.
It also demanded the health ministry comply with its demands, including providing all doctors with personal protective equipment (PPE), training for dealing with coronavirus cases, and testing for those with symptoms or who have come into contact with infected people.

Read more here.

3. Bethlehem's Church of Nativity reopens after coronavirus closure

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, built on the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, reopened on Tuesday more than two months after closing in the face of the coronavirus.

A handful of priests from different Christian denominations stood watch as the door to the church in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was opened.

Once inside, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Bethlehem, Bishop Theophylactos, kissed an icon while a priest sprayed holy water in the grotto of the church, where Christians believe Christ was born in a manger.

The church had been closed since 5 March when an outbreak of Covid-19 was detected in Bethlehem.

Initially only 50 people will be allowed in the church at one time and visitors must wear face coverings and observe social distancing, a joint statement from the churches that control the site said.

Kissing or touching the stones, including in the grotto where Christians believe Jesus was born, will be forbidden.

The Bethlehem outbreak began with a group of Greek tourists who visited the city, including the Church of the Nativity, prompting church authorities to sterilise the site.

Read more here.

4. Muslims in US and Canada celebrate Eid with drive-thru prayers

Muslims in Canada and the US embellished their cars with colourful decorations for Eid al-Fitr and attended prayers from the parked vehicles in an effort to capture the holiday spirit this weekend despite strict coronavirus restrictions.  

In Canada's Ottowa, a mosque held its first-ever drive-in prayer to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, after finalising the decision last minute on Saturday.

According to local outlet Ottowa Citizen, hundreds of cars filled a parking lot behind the mosque just hours after the announcement. Staying inside their cars, worshippers tuned to a radio station while Imam Muhammad Sulaiman led the Eid prayer.

Similar events were held in the US, with videos emerging on social media showing rows of cars parked side-by-side to replicate the traditional positions of Muslim worshippers standing in line to pray.

Families inside the cars were connected to the Imam via popular video messaging app Zoom, where a lecture was being held prior to the official prayers.

Read more here.

5. IKEA praised for opening car park for socially distanced Eid prayers

Swedish home and furniture giant IKEA received widespread praise this weekend after allowing hundreds of Muslims to use one of its German store's car parks to perform Eid al-Fitr prayers.

Footage that surfaced online of worshippers taking part in the prayer while adhering to social distancing measures designed to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"We have done holiday prayer as a nation in the open air with 700 people," the Islamic Community Milli Goruş (IGMG), which organised the event, said.

"We would like to express our gratitude to the Wetzlar police, the Wetzlar regulatory office, to IKEA Wetzlar and others that made this extraordinary prayer possible. Have a blessed holiday," the message, posted onto the group’s Wetzlar Facebook page, said.

Read more here.

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