The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 23 June

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 23 June
Today in coronavirus news from the Middle East: Saudi Arabia slashes Hajj pilgrim numbers, Iran's second wave continues, Jordan trials electronic tags for tracing, and more.
5 min read
19 June, 2020
Here's your daily coronavirus update [TNA]
Five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 23 June.

1. Saudi Arabia to slash Hajj pilgrim numbers from 2.5 million to 1,000

Saudi Arabia will allow around 1,000 pilgrims residing in the kingdom to perform the hajj this year, a minister said Tuesday, after it announced the ritual would be scaled back due to coronavirus.

The pilgrimage was performed by 2.5 million people last year, and is considered the world’s largest human gathering.

The pilgrimage, scheduled for the end of July, will be limited to those below 65 years of age and with no chronic illnesses, Health Minister Tawfiq al-Rabiah said.

The pilgrims will be tested for coronavirus before arriving in the holy city of Mecca and will be required to quarantine at home after the ritual, Rabiah added.

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2. Iran reports highest daily coronavirus death toll since April

Iran on Tuesday reported 121 new coronavirus deaths, its highest daily toll in over two months.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told a news conference that the new fatalities brought the overall virus death toll to 9,863.

That is Iran's highest single-day fatality rate since 11 April, when 125 deaths were recorded.

Lari also announced another 2,445 people had tested positive for Covid in the past 24 hours, raising the country's caseload to 209,970.

The Islamic republic recorded a drop in its daily fatalities in early May, but there has been a rise in recent weeks.

There has been scepticism at home and abroad about the country's official Covid-19 figures, with concerns the actual toll could be much higher.

Iran has not imposed a mandatory lockdown on people to stop the virus's spread, but it closed schools, cancelled public events and banned movement between the country's 31 provinces in March.

However it began easing restrictions in April to help its sanctions-hit economy.

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3. Jordan rolls out electronic bracelets trial

Jordan has launched a programme to use electronic bracelets to monitor confirmed or suspected coronavirus patients.

The trial period, which started on Monday, will be used for a limited number of people, Director of the Coronavirus Crisis Management Cell, Brigadier General Mazen Al-Farraya said.

Authorities are still working on the technicalities of the bracelet and it will not yet be imposed as an official measure for all Jordan citizens.

"The use of electronic bracelets is new and rolling it out to the general public will require a successful first experiment," media spokesman for the National Committee for Epidemiology, Nazir Obaidat told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

The aim of the bracelet is to ensure that the public commits to official coronavirus quarantine measures, including social distancing, the official continued.

He warned that despite Jordan managing the health crisis so far, there is the potential for a second wave of Covid-19 in the kingdom.

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4. Egypt to open mosques but keep Friday prayer ban

Egypt is gradually loosening its partial coronavirus lockdown amid a steady increase of daily infections in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said Tuesday that his government would reopen mosques and churches starting Saturday and the ban on Friday’s Muslim prayers at mosques and Sunday’s masses at churches would remain in place for now.

He says restaurants, coffee shops, clubs and theaters will allowed to reopen at 25% capacity. The government has also extended the hours public and private transposition can operate by four hours, until midnight. It also lifted the country's night-time curfew.

Madbouly says Egypt's beaches and parks remain closed until further notice.

The gradual reopening was announced as the the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Egypt has often surpassed 1,000 in recent weeks.

The Arab world’s most populous country has officially reported around 57,000 confirmed cases, including at least 2,278 deaths.

5. Life of Canadian detained in Egypt without charge 'hanging by a thread'

The family of a Canadian citizen held without charge in Egypt are calling on the Ottawa government to help with his transfer to a hospital as he grapples with a suspected coronavirus infection.

Yasser Ahmed Albaz, 52, has been held in Cairo's feared Tora prison since February last year, when he was detained at the airport on his way home. He has not been charged with any crime.

Albaz is currently fighting pneumonia, which his family suspect is a symptom of a serious Covid-19 infection as the novel coronavirus reportedly runs rampant in the cramped and unsanitary conditions of the Egypt's notorious detention facilities.

Appeals for the Canadian government to assist in his transfer from the prison to a private hospital have gone unanswered, his daughter told local media.

"I haven't heard back from the government and haven't received acknowledgment and it's very concerning because the urgency has escalated," Amal Ahmed Albaz told CTV News Toronto on Monday. "I have been saying his life is on the line, but now it's hanging by a thread."

Her father, who displays "all the Covid-19 symptoms", has several risk factors for the potentially deadly illness, including high blood pressure.

Canadian doctors who the family spoke with about Albaz's condition said he could die if he did not receive proper medical treatment, she said.

"We need the government to everything they can to get him to a private a hospital. A Canadian is dying in an Egyptian prison and our Canadian government needs to get him to a hospital," Amal said.

Read more here

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