The challenges of COVID-19

As the global economy reels and everyday life grinds to a standstill, we take a look at the spread of coronavirus across the Middle East and the wider Muslim world – and the containment measures being put in place

The novel coronavirus is a disease that has infected more than 134,500 people worldwide. More than 134,500 people have been infected globally and over 4,900 have died, according to a Reuters tally of government announcements posted on 13 March 2020.


Morocco's health ministry said the country had recorded its first death linked to the new coronavirus on 10 March, an 89-year-old woman who suffered from chronic health problems. The woman, a Moroccan citizen who had been living in Italy, "suffered from chronic illnesses affecting the respiratory and cardiovascular system", the ministry said in a statement.

She returned to Morocco in late February, before testing positive for the virus and being transferred under medical supervision to a hospital in Casablanca, according to the statement. Two more infections have been confirmed in the kingdom – a Moroccan man who came home from Italy and a French tourist who arrived in Marrakesh on last Saturday. Both are under medical supervision.

Moroccan authorities have imposed restrictions on sporting and cultural events, including closing stadia to the public.


Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has ordered schools and universities to close until 5 April to slow the spread of the coronavirus, state media reported on Thursday, after the country's first registered death from the disease. Algeria has confirmed 24 cases of coronavirus, mostly among members of a single family in the city of Blida, south of the capital.

The government has already ordered a range of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including a ban on spectators at football games and the suspension of all cultural, social and political gatherings. The authorities have not clarified, however, whether the ban extends to weekly mass protests that have convulsed Algeria for more than a year, thrusting its long-established political class into crisis.

Coronavirus patient receving treatment in Iran (photo: picture-alliance/AP/Tasnim News Agency)
Countries across the Middle East introduce sweeping measures in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus: borders are being sealed, schools closed and public gatherings cancelled. In Iran meanwhile the death toll from the infection is rising. An Iranian health official said there have been 1075 confirmed new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, with the official number of deaths currently at 479. The actual figure is likely to be considerably higher


In Tunisia the price of garlic has shot up amid a buying rush as consumers hope it will help protect against the new coronavirus, despite caution from the World Health Organisation.

Tunisia has registered six cases of the novel coronavirus, most in people who had been in Italy. A seventh person infected with the virus has returned to France. Several people have been arrested by authorities in recent days for allegedly spreading misinformation on coronavirus on social networks.


No cases of the disease have yet been confirmed in Libya and the country is screening international arrivals through ports and airports, said Badereldine Al-Najar, head of the National

Centre for Disease Control, in interview. He added that Libya is not in a position to confront the coronavirus if it arrives and called for greater support to prepare the war-stricken country's health system for the disease.


Egypt reported 13 new coronavirus cases on 12 March, which included one person who died, the health ministry said. The Egyptian government decided to suspend events including major gatherings such as religious festivals, concerts, exhibitions. The education ministry ordered schools to suspend activities like sports and music events, but insisted study would not be stopped. In an apparent move to prevent public panic, security services detained three people over spreading false information about coronavirus on their Facebook account.

Independent sources continue to suggest that Egypt is under-reporting the spread of coronavirus within its borders.


In Turkey a second patient has been diagnosed with coronavirus, the country's Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday after Ankara announced a series of measures to curb the spread of the virus. Koca wrote on Twitter that the second patient, whose test results came on Thursday evening, was from the circle of people close the first patient diagnosed on Wednesday.

Turkish schools will be closed for one week and universities for three weeks from 16 March and sports events will be held without spectators until end-April.


In Syria's northwest, where people uprooted by war are crammed into camps, medics fear the coronavirus would spread widely if it reaches a country with its healthcare system in ruins.

Doctors and aid workers say they have recorded no cases so far. But they warned that camps would not cope in the event of an outbreak, with hospitals already struggling to treat even basic illnesses after nine years of war.


Jordan closed border crossings with Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and its seaports to shipping from Egypt on 10 March as well as barring overland passenger traffic from Iraq to protect the kingdom from coronavirus, the health minister Saad Jaber said. The government has also banned travel to Lebanon and Syria and from Monday will bar entry to travellers from France, Germany and Spain.

Jordan announced earlier this month that a man who had arrived on a flight from Italy had tested positive for coronavirus, the first case confirmed in the country. Jordanian authorities have not announced any new cases.


Lebanon said on 11 March it will halt all travel to and from Italy, South Korea, China, and Iran to curb coronavirus and gave nationals four days to return from other virus-hit countries before a more sweeping shutdown of flights would take effect.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab told a news conference that Lebanon was stepping up measures to curb the outbreak after a second death was recorded on Wednesday and the country's total confirmed cases reached 68 according to Lebanese media. Diab said Lebanon was also banning entry of passengers from France, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Spain, Britain, and Germany. Lebanese nationals, diplomats accredited in Lebanon, residents and NGO workers would have four days to return from these countries before flights to and from them would also be halted.

As part of heightened countermeasures, Lebanon is banning public gatherings and shutting public venues such as malls and restaurants.

Spread of the coronavirus (source: New York Times)
COVID-19's inexorable spread: the novel coronavirus is a disease that has infected more than 134,500 people worldwide. More than 134,500 people have been infected globally and over 4,900 have died, according to the latest tally of government announcements issued by Reuters on 13 March 2020


As of 11 March Israel had 82 confirmed coronavirus cases and is taking strict measures to contain the virus' spread, including requiring anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days. Many airlines have suspended service to Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered most schools in the country to close as a precaution against coronavirus, and called for the formation of an emergency national unity government. Primary and secondary schools, with some exceptions such as special education programmes, would be shut, he said.

"We are altering our internal routine in order to handle an outside threat, the threat of the virus," Netanyahu, 70, said in remarks broadcast live.


Iran reported 75 new deaths on 12 March, bringing the official death toll to 429 in the worst-hit country in the Middle East. An Iranian health official said there had been 1075 confirmed new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours.

Iran is another country accused of under-reporting the occurrence of COVID-19 within its borders.


Iraq has cancelled this week's Friday prayers in the Shia holy city of Kerbala over coronavirus fears. Iraqi authorities have alo urged people to avoid public gatherings and ordered cafes to close as virus cases have hit 67, mainly blamed on travellers from Iran.

Iraqi Airlines announced on 12 March it would stop all flights to India and Lebanon over the coronavirus outbreak, the state news agency reported. The statement from the company added that evacuation flights from India will be excluded from this decision, and 15 March will be the last day for Iraqis in Lebanon to return.

Iraqi semi-autonomous Kurdistan region has banned the Nowruz New Year festivals due later this month due to coronavirus fears, a statement said on Wednesday. The region will also limit personal travel and trade activities, the self-autonomous government said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia detected 17 new cases, 11 of whom were Egyptians.


The Indonesian government has prepared a 120 trillion rupiah ($8.1 billion) stimulus package to support its economy as the spread of coronavirus disrupts global activities.


India said it will suspend a vast majority of visas to the country in a wide-reaching attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. India also ordered upcoming international cricket matches to be played in empty stadiums.


For ongoing updates on the spread of COVID-19, please visit