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Saudi shuts mosques; curfew in Jordan; 135 deaths in Iran

RIYADH/TEHRAN/AMMAN: Saudi Arabia will no longer allow Muslims to conduct their five daily prayers and the weekly Friday prayer inside mosques as part of efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus, state news agency SPA said yesterday. The prayers will continue only at the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah, the holiest places in Islam, SPA said, citing a decision from the Council of Senior Scholars, the kingdom’s highest religious body.

Iran announced yesterday another 135 deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the overall toll to 988 in one of the world’s worst-hit countries. “Reports by more than 56 laboratories indicated that we have had 1,178 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the past 24 hours,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference. “This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 16,169 as of today noon,” he added.

Jahanpour also said 5,389 people who were infected had been discharged from hospitals “with general good health”. Tehran province recorded the highest number of new infections with 273 fresh cases. Alborz, to the west of Tehran, was next with 116, followed by East Azerbaijan with 78. “As of this morning, more than 15 million of our countrymen have been screened” for symptoms, he said.

The official reiterated calls for Iranians to stay at home during the outbreak and asked them to report possible symptoms on a ministry website. The website identifies the individual using their national identity number and asks if they have symptoms such as coughing or fever. It also asks if anyone suspected of having the virus, under treatment or recently recovered lives with them. If the symptoms are not serious, it advises them to stay at home and tells them where the nearest healthcare center is located.

Jordan has announced a lockdown beginning today, ordering all citizens to stay in their homes apart from emergencies and banning travel between provinces, to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Troops were deployed at the entrances of cities yesterday to help impose the measures when they take effect the following day, the army said.

The kingdom, which has already shuttered shops and closed its borders to halt the spread of coronavirus, is expected to issue a royal decree declaring a state of emergency that will give the authorities widespread power to control movement. Jordan has closed land and sea border crossings with Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Israel, and suspended all incoming and outgoing flights. Only cargo flights and commercial overland shipments will be allowed in and out of the country.

Prime Minister Omar Razzaz visited a grain silo and said there were enough strategic stocks to feed the country for months, in an attempt to assure panicky Jordanians who have been hoarding food. Energy officials said gasoline stocks would cover 60 days’ supply in a country that imports all its fuel. The cabinet announced the closure of all government agencies except hospitals from today and ordered private firms to also close their offices and send employees home.

All shops in malls would be shut apart from those selling food and medicine. Gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned. The public security department said it would use force if necessary against anyone resisting these government decisions. Jordan’s government suspended trading in the Amman Stock Exchange (ASE) from yesterday until further notice, after the market plunged in recent days to levels not seen in more than 17 years.

Egypt has placed over 300 families under quarantine in a Delta village to stem the spread of the new coronavirus after two deaths were recorded this month originating from the area. “We have confined more than 300 families to their homes where they will remain in quarantine,” Health Minister Hala Zayed told late-night television host Amr Adib on Monday.

Without naming the village in Daqahliya governorate, 150 km north of Cairo in the fertile Delta, she explained that “cleansing procedures” were undertaken to prevent further infections and that other “touristic” governorates would also be shut down in coming days. The “heightened” measures come after Egypt recorded two new deaths, with the toll now rising to four.

The health ministry said Monday that an Egyptian man aged 50 died after coming into contact with a 72-year-old woman, who succumbed on March 12 from COVID-19, hailing from the same Daqahliya village now under quarantine. The other death was of a German man, 72, in Luxor, the site of coronavirus cases originating on a Nile cruise boat that was later quarantined.

Egypt’s total confirmed virus cases stands at 166 after the ministry reported 40 new cases, 35 of them Egyptians and five foreigners of various nationalities. The country said it would suspend all flights starting tomorrow until the end of the month to try to reduce the rate of infections from the global outbreak. Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly urged Egyptians on Monday to “stay put” in their homes and avoid “panic shopping”, saying the state had ample reserves of food items and other basic products. – Agencies

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