Coronavirus pandemic in the Islamic world
Doubling down on containment efforts

Around the Islamic world, lockdowns and curfews are being extended and religious ceremonies are being cancelled outright in the hope of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Here’s the latest from across the region

Algeria

On Sunday, Algeria extended the curfews it put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The curfew will last from 3 p.m. until 7 a.m. in the capital Algiers and eight other provinces, and from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. in most of the others. The two southernmost provinces, which are almost entirely desert, have no confirmed cases and will not be under curfew.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh has announced an economic stimulus package worth over 8.5 billion dollars to cushion the shock of the global coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rolled out the plan in a nationwide televised speech and said special measures are needed to support industries because most of them are likely to face a slump during the lockdown.

Bangladesh vowed on Monday to provide emergency food supplies for "as long as needed" to thousands of sex workers left destitute by the sudden closure of brothels due to the coronavirus pandemic. On 20 March, the government announced it was shutting about 12 officially sanctioned brothels in Bangladesh until at least 5 April, including one of the world's largest brothels, Daulatdia, which houses about 1,500 female sex workers.

On Monday, restrictions on devotees attending obligatory daily prayers at more than 250,000 mosques nationwide were introduced as the number of novel coronavirus cases surged. "No more than five persons at a time will be allowed to attend the congregations for the daily prayers," the Religious Affairs Ministry said. Only the imam, muezzin – who summons to prayer five times a day – and other mosque officials will be allowed to say their prayers inside the mosque, it added. A maximum of 10 people can attend Friday prayers, the order said, asking people to say their prayers at home instead.

Egypt

Egypt will ban any public religious gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts in around two weeks, to counter the spread of the new coronavirus. Egypt is also banning any gatherings and public iftars (fast-breaking meals) as well as collective social activities, the Ministry of Islamic Endowments said in a separate statement. The ban will also apply to the seclusion of Itikaf, when Muslims spend the last 10 days of the month in mosques to pray and meditate, the ministry said.

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church has decided to suspend prayers preceding Easter celebrations later this month as part of efforts to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

India

India's 21-day lockdown is set to end next week, but several state leaders have called for an extension or only a partial lifting of restrictions, saying it is the only way to avoid a coronavirus epidemic that will be difficult to tackle. India has so far escaped a big surge in cases after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked its 1.3 billion people to stay indoors in the world's biggest lockdown last month that authorities have enforced tightly. But shuttering down the $2.9 trillion economy has left millions of people without work and forced those who live on daily wages to flee to their homes in the countryside for food and shelter.

India says it will lift a ban on some drug exports including hydroxychloroquine after President Donald Trump threatened retaliation if India failed to send the anti-malarial drug to the United States. Foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement on Tuesday that having confirmed sufficient supplies for India's needs, export restrictions "have been largely lifted."

Indonesia

Indonesian citizens are now required to wear face masks when they are outside, the government announced on Sunday, as the number of Covid-19 cases rose. "Starting today, everyone has to wear face masks when going outside," said Achmad Yurianto, the government spokesman for issues relating to the disease, noting that "even asymptomatic people could be a virus spreader." Indonesia reported 181 new cases of infection on Sunday, while 14 more patients have been cured, bringing the total to 164. The death toll rose to 198.

Indonesia will issue some $27 billion in so-called "Pandemic bonds" to finance efforts to deal with the health crisis and its economic impact. The government has slashed annual growth projections and warned the economy could even contract in a worst-case scenario. It will spend an extra $25 billion to mitigate the economic impact of the virus.

Israel

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a complete lockdown over the upcoming Passover holiday to control the country's coronavirus outbreak, but offered citizens some hope by saying he expects to lift widespread restrictions after the week-long festival. Israel has already greatly restricted movement to help slow the outbreak, allowing people to leave their homes to buy food or other essential activities.

Churches will be empty this Easter, and Passover festivities will also take place behind closed doors owing to the COVID-19 lockdown. Christians will be obliged to turn to services broadcast on television or over social media this year owing to the coronavirus.

Lebanon

Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus. The first four planes touched down at Beirut International Airport from Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan. Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated this week and at the end of the month. Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.

President Michel Aoun on Monday called on international donors to provide financial assistance to his crisis-hit country as it grapples with a severe economic downturn compounded by the coronavirus.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in overcrowded and rundown camps in Lebanon are bracing for the novel coronavirus as aid groups mobilise to help. Lebanon is home to tens of thousands of Palestinians and at least 1.5 million Syrians, who have fled the war in their country. So far, just one Palestinian, who lives outside a camp, and three Syrians have tested positive for COVID-19, compared to 520 infections and 17 deaths across Lebanon, according to officials. But Palestinian and Syrian refugees who live in cramped quarters – including in tent camps, where basic services such as water are poor – are particularly vulnerable to the illness.

Libya

The authorities running eastern Libya on Tuesday confirmed their first case of the coronavirus despite efforts to close borders and impose a curfew to limit social interactions. Libya has confirmed a total of 20 cases of the new coronavirus, with the others in the western areas controlled by the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). The United Nations and aid agencies have urged Libya's warring factions to stop fighting, but the conflict has increased in the past two weeks and projectiles hit a hospital in a GNA-held area of Tripoli on Monday.

Malaysia

Malaysia's Health Ministry announced on Monday evening that 236 people have recovered from the new coronavirus over the past 24 hours, the highest daily total so far. The confirmed recoveries substantially exceed the 130 new infections diagnosed over the same period.

Morocco

Morocco's King Mohammed VI on Sunday pardoned more than 5,600 prisoners and ordered their release in stages to avoid contagion in the country's overcrowded jails. The justice ministry said the 5,654 detainees that would be freed were selected based on their age, health, good conduct and length of detention.

On Tuesday, Morocco made wearing face masks mandatory for anyone allowed to go out during the coronavirus outbreak, the government said. The masks will be sold at a subsidised price of 0.8 dirhams ($0.08) per unit. Those who fail to comply face prison sentences of up to three months and a fine of up to 1,300 dirhams, the government said in a statement on Monday.

Pakistan

Pakistan has quarantined 20,000 worshippers and is still searching for tens of thousands more who attended an Islamic gathering in Lahore last month despite the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Authorities said they want to test or quarantine those who congregated at the event held by the Tablighi Jamaat – an Islamic missionary movement – between 10 and 12 March over fears they are now spreading COVID-19 across Pakistan and overseas. More than 100,000 people went to the meeting, organisers said, undeterred by government requests for it to be cancelled as the virus hit the country.

Pakistan's military promised on Tuesday that dozens of doctors who were briefly jailed for protesting about a lack of protective equipment needed to treat the growing number of coronavirus cases will get the equipment they need. The 47 doctors protested in Quetta, the capital of south-western Baluchistan province, on Monday, when they were detained. They were released later the same day, but some of the doctors said they were mistreated by police and that some of their colleagues were beaten. The physicians declined to give their names, fearing reprisals.

Philippines

The Philippines has extended the home quarantine order covering roughly half its population (around 55 million people). The lockdown, due to end next week, will be prolonged until 30 April as confirmed infections hit 3,660 with 163 deaths. Schools, public places and most businesses have been shuttered since mid-March, with residents told to remain at home except for food shopping and medical visits.

Refugees

Officials in Greece on Sunday placed a second migrant camp near Athens under lockdown after an Afghan resident tested positive for the coronavirus, the Migration Ministry said. Officials said the camp in Malakasa, some 38 kilometres (24 miles) northeast of Athens, had been placed under "full sanitary isolation" for 14 days, with no one allowed to enter or leave. The ministry said the 53-year-old Afghan man, who has a prior ailment, had personally sought help with virus symptoms at the in-camp medical facility. He was subsequently taken to an Athens hospital where he tested positive, and his family was quarantined. A full screening of the camp is in process, the ministry said.

Saudi Arabia

On Monday, Saudi Arabia extended the duration of daily curfews in four governorates and five cities, including the capital, to 24 hours to combat coronavirus as confirmed deaths from the disease hit 38. The kingdom imposed round-the-clock lockdowns on the cities of Riyadh, Tabuk, Dammam, Dhahran and Hofuf, the Interior Ministry said on Twitter. The same measures were also imposed on the governorates of Jeddah, Taif, Qatif and Khobar, the ministry added. Authorities had already sealed off the holy cities of Mecca and Medina along with Riyadh and Jeddah, barring people from entering and exiting as well as prohibiting movement between all provinces. Saudi Arabia has reported the highest number of infections in the Gulf.

Tunisia

Tunisia's parliament on Saturday gave the prime minister special powers for two months to allow for the accelerated adoption of measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus. Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh will be able to issue decrees without referring to the legislature in an effort to battle the pandemic.

Tunisia's interior ministry warned on Tuesday that people infected with coronavirus could be prosecuted for manslaughter if they contaminate others by disobeying the health ministry's instructions. "If someone who is sick does not self-isolate as required in line with health ministry instructions, and they contaminate someone else, we will pursue them under the penal code," Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi told reporters.

Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an extensive curfew for people under 20 years of age on Friday. Two days later, the Ministry of the Interior announced some workers were exempt, including seasonal workers in agriculture and some others under contract. Since Friday night, 31 cities, including the two largest Ankara and Istanbul, have been largely sealed off, with entry and exit only allowed for important supplies. At this stage the measure will apply for 15 days.

On Tuesday, Turkey's parliament debated a controversial bill for the early release of tens of thousands of inmates in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus in prisons. The measure, proposed by the ruling party, has drawn criticism from rights groups for whom it excludes – opposition politicians, journalists, academics, civil servants and lawyers accused of terrorism-related charges. It's also not applicable to those in pre-trial detention, such as pro-Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, 46, philanthropist Osman Kavala, 62, and journalist and author Ahmet Altan, 67.

 

(AFP/AP/dpa/Reuters)

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