COVID-19 pandemic
Coronavirus takes no account of Ramadan

According to the latest Reuters tally, more than 2.54 million people are now reported to have been infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 177,004 have died. As Muslims prepare for a very different Ramadan this year, here are the latest developments from across the region

Algeria

Algeria will extend a lockdown by 10 days until 29 April as it tries to limit the spread of the coronavirus amid increases in deaths and confirmed cases, the prime minister's office said on Saturday.

The government had imposed a full lockdown in the Blida area, south of the capital Algiers and a night curfew in the country's remaining 47 provinces until 19 April.

"All other preventive measures will remain in place," the office said in a statement, referring to measures including the suspension of flights and public transport and closure of universities, schools, restaurants and cafes.

Algeria has so far reported 2,418 infections and 364 deaths.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh has announced it will provide food support for 50 million low-income people affected by the global coronavirus pandemic that has killed at least 84 people in the South Asian country.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made the announcement on Saturday in a brief parliamentary session that was convened amid a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus.

The government will also bring an additional 5 million households into a scheme to provide subsidised grains from the public distribution system, she said. Twenty-five million people have already been allowed to purchase subsidised food under the nationwide programme.

Money, she said, will be diverted from comparatively less important development projects to meet expenses for the well-being of the country of more than 160 million people, 10 percent of whom are considered extremely poor.

Egypt

Egypt, which has a population of 100 million, has reported 3,490 cases of the new coronavirus, including 264 deaths. Top officials have expressed confidence they can contain the outbreak through measures including quarantine, a night curfew in place since 25 March and public information campaigns.

But since the country's first case on 14 February, relatives and rights groups have called for the release of detainees, including political prisoners swept up in a crackdown on dissent under President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

Some rights groups, lawyers and current and former prisoners say inmates are often kept in cramped, dirty cells and lack running water, adequate ventilation and healthcare: conditions ripe for the rapid transmission of disease.

While countries including Iran, Germany and Canada have freed prisoners in an effort to contain the coronavirus epidemic, Egypt has given no public sign it will do so.

India

As India eased its tough coronavirus lockdown for farmers, some agricultural workers said they were unaware they could return to the fields after weeks without income during the peak harvest season.

India's 1.3 billion people will continue to live under strict curbs until 3 May, but the government said farms and factories could resume activity on Monday in the  hinterland, which has been less hard-hit by COVID-19.

"We didn't know the restrictions were lifted," farm worker Mukesh Sahani told journalists by phone from his village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, saying weeks without earnings had left his family with "just about enough to eat and live."

"We have incurred the biggest loss ever this year. My parents and I managed to get two days of work this month for 400 Indian rupees ($5), as against the 15-20 days of work we get on various farms every year," he added.

April is normally a month of strong demand for farm workers but the lockdown, which is now in its fourth week, has brought the countryside to a virtual standstill and harvest festivals have been muted this year.

 

It was unclear exactly how many of the country's millions of agricultural workers were unaware that the controls had been partially lifted, as farming unions sought to spread the word in the countryside.

Indonesia

Indonesia will ban its traditional annual exodus by people streaming out of cities at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, as the Southeast Asian nation looks to curb the spread of coronavirus, President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday.

Indonesia's tally of 616 virus deaths is the highest in East Asia after China, but Widodo had previously resisted a ban, seeking instead to persuade people to stay put.

But health experts had warned that allowing millions in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country to travel to homes in towns and villages over Ramadan, which starts this week, could accelerate the spread of the disease.

"I have taken the decision that we will ban 'mudik'," Widodo told a cabinet meeting, using the Indonesian term for the journey. "That is why the relevant preparation needs to be done."

He cited an online survey by the transport ministry that showed 24% of respondents insistent on joining the exodus.

The ban takes effect on Friday, with restricted access to Jakarta, the capital and cities grappling with virus outbreaks, said Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister of maritime and investment affairs.

 

Iran

Iran on Tuesday announced 88 new deaths from the novel coronavirus as the country said it had released more than 1,000 foreign prisoners over the outbreak.

According to health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour, the latest fatalities in the past 24 hours brought the total to 5,297, in one of the world's deadliest outbreaks.

The foreign prisoners were among 100,000 inmates temporarily released in several stages since March. They included British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, arrested in 2016 and serving a five-year jail term for sedition.

A panel of UN human rights experts last week called on Iran to expand the list of inmates it has temporarily released over the COVID-19 outbreak to include "prisoners of conscience and dual and foreign nationals".

It also raised concerns about the spread in detention facilities of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

According to Jahanpour, an additional 1,297 cases of COVID-19 infection detected in the past 24 hours brought the overall total to 84,802.

Iraq

Iraq eased its coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday by letting some businesses re-open and relaxing a month-long curfew on movement imposed to curb the spread of the disease, the government said.

The authorities acted days before the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar where families tend to go out to shop in the evening.

But this Ramadan will be different for Iraqis, as the new measures will allow freedom of movement inside the capital Baghdad only between 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. while maintaining a complete curfew on the Friday-Saturday weekend.

 

Under the new regulations, government offices can keep staffing levels at a maximum of 25 percent and some shops will be allowed to reopen, though malls, parks and mosques where large numbers of people normally gather will remain closed, a government statement said.

The easing of the curfew is due to last until 22 May at the end of Ramadan, when it is expected to be tightened again. Schools and universities will stay closed and all flights will remain halted, said the statement.

As of 20 April, Iraq had recorded 1,574 cases of COVID-19, including 82 deaths and 1,043 recovered, according to the health ministry.

Israel

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel paused on Tuesday to remember the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Israel has been under strict lockdown measures for more than a month in efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, with most public life shut down and many people working from home or out of work. Others observed a moment of silence at homes from their balconies.

According to the Finance Ministry, 75 years after the end of World War II, there are still 189,500 Holocaust survivors in Israel. About 70 per cent of them are above age 80 - making them particularly at risk from the Covid-19 disease as long as there's no vaccination.

More than 13,880 people are confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus, with the country's death toll at 181, according to the Health Ministry. More than 4,350 have recovered, the ministry added.

To mark the event despite the virus restrictions, the coastal city of Tel Aviv was promoting online events, such as sharing survivors' stories on Facebook.

 

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem had streamed a state opening ceremony on Monday night online, with translation in five languages. Yad Vashem also invited people from around the world to participate in a virtual name-reading ceremony by reciting the names of victims.

Lebanon

A team from Lebanon's Rafik Hariri University Hospital will test for the new coronavirus at a refugee camp on Wednesday after a resident was found to be infected, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said.

A Palestinian refugee from Syria at the Wavel refugee camp in Lebanon's Bekaa valley was transferred to hospital in Beirut for treatment that will be covered by the relief agency, a statement said.

The Lebanese government has worried about the virus hitting camps for Syrian and Palestinian refugees where high population densities are likely to accelerate its spread.

UNRWA said it was "taking all necessary steps to provide the required assistance to the patient's family to allow them to isolate themselves inside the house".

The UNHCR refugee agency said last month that efforts to curb the coronavirus among refugee communities had started early on with awareness campaigns, distribution of hygiene materials and preparations for additional hospital capacity.

Lebanon's health ministry said on Tuesday that it had not recorded a new case of coronavirus in 24 hours, with total infections at 677 and 21 deaths.

Libya

The Covid-19 epidemic cannot justify leaving migrants to drown or returning them to risk abuse in Libya, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic warned last week.

Mijatovic's comments came a day after some 51 rescued migrants were returned to Libya despite being rescued in Malta's search and rescue zone by a commercial ship, according to the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) Libya office.

The 51 were apparently from a boat reported missing days earlier in the Maltese search and rescue zone, the IOM said. Five bodies were also retrieved and another seven people were said to be missing.

All the rescuees were sent to detention centres, the IOM said. The UN and rights groups have warned that migrants detained in Libya risk torture, sexual abuse and human trafficking.

Malaysia

Malaysian health authorities on Tuesday reported 57 new coronavirus cases, bringing the cumulative total to 5,482 cases as the daily increase in cases remained in double digits for the fifth straight day. Malaysia's health ministry also reported 3 new deaths, bringing the total fatalities up to 92.

Morocco

Morocco has confirmed 3,186 cases of the COVID-19 lung disease including 144 deaths. It has imposed a lockdown on public life that has been extended until May 20 and made the wearing of face masks in public compulsory.

Morocco's prime minister said on Tuesday the rise in cases despite weeks of lockdown restrictions is due to transmission within families, factories and commercial centres, where food shops remain open.

Pakistan

Pakistani authorities on Saturday extended the suspension of flights until 30 April, in order to prevent any further spread of the coronavirus in the country.

"Suspension of international and domestic flight operations has been extended till 30 April," said Abdul Sattar Khokhar, spokesperson for the aviation division.

There have been more than 7,000 coronavirus patients in Pakistan with 143 deaths. The numbers are lower than the projections, according to the government.

 

Prime Minister Imran Khan held a meeting to assess the situation after easing lockdown restrictions for some low-risk industries. "The battle against coronavirus was not yet over. Our projections suggest that we may have around 20,000 cases by next month," Khan said during a briefing.

Though Khan asked people to be careful in the future, his government failed to convince Muslim clerics against holding congregational prayers at mosques during the holy month of Ramadan.

President Arif Alvi held a meeting with the clerics but failed to convince them.

A 20-point plan has been agreed upon for people and mosques to follow during the holy month for congregational prayers, Alvi said after the meeting.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's top Islamic authority has called on Muslims around the world to perform prayers at home during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in compliance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Ramadan, marked by intense worshipping, is set to begin this week, but most Muslim countries have shut down mosques in an effort to contain the illness.

The council advised against group meals during Ramadan and underlined the importance of preserving life in Islam.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has suspended congregation prayers in mosques and halted religious journeys to holy Islamic sites as part of strict measures against the outbreak.

 

The monarchy has recorded a total of 8,247 coronavirus cases, the highest in the six Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia has also reported 92 deaths of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Tunisia

The annual Jewish pilgrimage to the ancient Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba has been called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, the organisers said on Tuesday.

Beginning 33 days after the start of the Jewish festival of Passover, the pilgrimage – which had been scheduled for 7-13 May – usually attracts thousands of Jewish worshippers from across the world.

But Ghriba, the oldest synagogue in Africa, has been shut as part of steps to curb the spread of coronavirus which has infected almost 900 people and cost 38 lives in Tunisia.

"We will only re-open the synagogue once the danger of the virus has passed," at the same time as mosques and other places of worship are reopened, pilgrimage organiser Perez Trabelsi told journalists.

Turkey

Turkey's confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease increased by 4,611 in the past 24 hours and 119 more people have died, taking the death toll to 2,259, Health Ministry data showed on Tuesday.

The total number of cases in the country stood at 95,591, the data showed, the highest total for any country outside Europe or the United States. A total of 14,918 people have recovered from the new coronavirus so far and the number of tests carried out over the past 24 hours stood at 39,429.

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