The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 8 April

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 8 April
Egypt bans gatherings ahead of Ramadan and Israel considers sending ventilators to Gaza in exchange for release of soldiers held by Hamas are some of your updates today,
3 min read
08 April, 2020
Here are your daily coronavirus updates [TNA]

Here are five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East and beyond on 8 April:

1. Egypt to ban religious gatherings during Ramadan

The Egyptian government is set to ban any public religious gatherings during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The Ministry of Islamic Endowments said in a statement that the ban would include any public iftars (fast-breaking meals) and social activities.

Egypt has a time-honoured tradition of holding mass iftars for poor people during Ramadan. The ministry also said the ban would also apply to itikaf – a practice where Muslims spend the last 10 days of the fasting month in a mosque to pray and meditate.

Egypt has confirmed over 1,300 cases of the coronavirus in a total population of roughly 100 million, and more than 80 deaths, according to a tally kept by Reuters.

2. Israel considers sending ventilators to Gaza in exchange for release of soldiers held by Hamas

Israel has said it plans to send ventilators to the Gaza strip to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in exchange for potentially negotiating a prison swap, after Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar warned that “six million Israelis will not be able to breathe” if no aid was sent to the besieged Palestinian enclave.

“The coordinator for captives and missing people Yaron Bloom and his staff, together with the National Security Council and the defence establishment are prepared to act constructively and call for an immediate discussion through intermediaries,” a statement from his office said.

An Israeli medical technology group, AID Genomics, said that it would work with the Copenhagen-based genomics company BGI to immediately set up an emergency lab for residents of Gaza.

The two companies plan on developing capacity to test 3,000 Gazans a day.

3. Coronavirus cases spike in Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up measures to stem rapidly growing coronavirus cases in Turkey but his refusal to impose a full lockdown to keep the economy afloat is drawing criticism.

With gatherings banned, restrictions on intercity trips, and the obligation to wear masks almost anywhere, Erdogan has imposed a series of tough measures but thus far resisted calls for a complete confinement.

Parliament began on Tuesday debating a government-sponsored bill to release up to a third of detainees in the country's overcrowded prisons as a safety measure against the coronavirus outbreak.

With 34,109 cases and 725 deaths, according to official figures published on Tuesday, Turkey is the ninth country in the world most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

4. Palestinian volunteers set up coronavirus "checkpoints" 

Ordinary Palestinians have set up Covid-19 checkpoints in rural areas of the occupied West Bank that the Palestinian police force is unable to reach due to Israeli restrictions.

Read More: Cut! Coronavirus pegs back Ramadan soaps

Lawyer Moayad Samha is one of dozens of civilians deployed along rural roads to enforce the new controls and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"We are trying to detect the virus as much as is possible with our limited means," volunteer Samha told AFP at the checkpoint in his home village of Ein Yabroud.

5. Gulf states urged to unblock internet calls amid coronavirus pandemic

Human rights groups urged three Gulf Arab states Wednesday to lift bans on free internet calls to help their large migrant workforces stay in touch during the coronavirus pandemic.

Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have long blocked many voice and video calling apps on the grounds of protecting the commercial interests of state-owned telecoms utilities.

"This has caused serious problems for the people living in those countries, especially the majority of migrant workers and foreign national residents who need to connect and communicate with their families and communities overseas," the rights groups said.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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