Gaza

Queen Tex factory in Gaza used to specialise in manufacturing shirts and jeans, but with the novel coronavirus epidemic sweeping the globe it has pivoted into medical wear. Now lines of men are using old sewing machines to stitch together masks while also wearing them, as the blockaded Palestinian enclave develops a homegrown response to the crisis.

"We were intending to import masks and suits from China but there were difficulties importing, so we decided to make them ourselves," manager Hassan Alwan said. His factory says it works to international standards but only has enough material to make around 1,000 hazmat suits.

The Gaza Strip has only had a handful of confirmed COVID-19 cases so far.

The suits, masks and gloves are being made initially for the local market, with the potential to later export to Israel which is fighting a far larger outbreak.

Iran

France, Germany and Britain have made the first use of a bartering mechanism set up to circumvent US sanctions against Iran, so they could send medical supplies to the crisis-hit
country, the German Foreign Office said on Tuesday.

The delivery is a breakthrough in long-running European attempts to activate the INSTEX mechanism, aimed at enabling legitimate trade with Iran, despite the U.S. sanctions. The supplies have arrived in Iran, the German Foreign Office confirmed, adding that INSTEX was working on further transactions with its Iranian counterpart organisation, STFI.

Iran is home to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks globally, with nearly 45,000 cases of infection and around 2,900 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Iranian Health Ministry.

President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that the country's state of emergency – which has closed schools, shuttered stores and restricted movement – could be extended beyond its current April 8 expiry date.

Iraq

Fearing the respiratory illness could somehow spread from the corpses to nearby population centres, Iraqi religious authorities, tribes and townspeople have sent the bodies of COVID-19 victims back to hospital morgues, where they are piling up. In Islam, a person must be buried as soon as possible after death, usually within 24 hours, while cremation is strictly prohibited.

Iraq has confirmed more than 500 COVID-19 cases and 42 deaths from the respiratory disease, but the real numbers are likely much higher as few of the country's 40 million people have been tested.

Authorities have declared a countrywide lockdown until 11 April, urging citizens to stay at home and adopt rigorous hygiene routines to forestall the spread of the virus.

Saudi Arabia & Kuwait

The world's last major coronavirus outbreak, in 2012, began in Saudi Arabia, where a faltering response allowed the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to kill several hundred people and spread across the region. This time around, the kingdom was better prepared, public health officials say.

Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Kuwait took drastic measures early on to contain the new  pandemic, halting air travel, imposing curfews, and quarantining and testing thousands of people. Saudi Arabia has reported 1,453 infections and eight deaths while Kuwait recorded no fatalities among 266 cases. Initial outbreaks in both countries were linked to foreign travel.

The World Health Organisation said Saudi Arabia's "whole of government" approach had benefited from the MERS experience and "unique expertise" in emergency preparedness from managing the
haj pilgrimage, the world's largest annual gathering of Muslims.

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