In lockdown over COVID-19

With borders closing and the opportunities for international travel shrinking by the hour, we take a look at coronavirus developments across the Middle East and the wider Muslim world

By the evening of 15 March the number of deaths due to the coronavirus had reached 3,213 in mainland China, where the pandemic originated. Countries around the globe are now fighting to slow the spread of COVID-19.


Several special flights departed Morocco on Sunday taking thousands of stranded Europeans home as the kingdom announced it was suspending all regular air traffic due to the coronavirus, authorities and airports said.

Moroccan authorities on Sunday increased the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 28, from 18. One person has so far died from the virus in Morocco.

The country has taken a series of measures to contain the spread of the virus, closing schools and universities, cancelling sporting and cultural events and banning public gatherings of more than 50 people.

This year's Mawazine music festival – held annually in Morocco and one of the biggest such events worldwide – will be cancelled, organisers announced Sunday.


Algeria is to suspend all air and sea links with France from Tuesday to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the prime minister's office said.

Abdelaziz Djerad ordered the "exceptional suspension" of "all air and sea passenger services" after consultation with his French counterpart Edouard Philippe, his office said in a statement on Sunday. There will however be a repatriation scheme for French citizens currently travelling in Algeria and Algerian nationals now travelling in France, it added.

France is one of the European countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 illness, accounting for 91 of more than 6,000 deaths worldwide.[embed:render:embedded:node:39498]

Algeria has reported 49 confirmed cases including one person who has since left its territory. Four have died.


Tunisia has reported 20 COVID-19 cases since 2 March. While no deaths have been reported, authorities have taken tough measures to halt the spread of the disease and fewer customers are crowding the paved alleys of the capital's ancient medina.

There is no known cure for the new coronavirus, but in the medicinal herbs souk in Tunis, anxious Tunisians are consulting with herbalists and stocking up on traditional remedies.

In the heart of the old city, Tunisians continue flocking to the Souk el-Blat and its herbalist stalls, where flasks, powders and dried herbs are stacked high. Local and imported herbal medicines are traditionally valued for warding off winter flu, which shares some symptoms with the new coronavirus.


The UN-recognised government in divided and war-torn Libya has said it will close from Monday land borders under its control in the west to keep out the coronavirus.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) said air links would also be suspended, even if to date no cases of the COVID-19 illness have been reported by it or by a rival administration based in the country's east.


Egypt said it will close schools and universities for two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases rises, reaching 110 on Saturday with two deaths. The suspension of classes from Sunday follows previously announced measures including the cancellation of large public gatherings, restrictions on the time allocated for mass prayers and the halting of local football league matches for two weeks.

President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi also called for a 100 billion Egyptian pound ($6.38 billion) fund to finance a "comprehensive" state plan for tackling the outbreak, a statement by the presidency said, without giving details about the source of the funding.


Turkey identified 12 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its total to 18, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Monday, marking the highest daily rise since the country announced its first case last week. Koca said two of the new cases were related to the first case reported in the country, seven had  travelled from Europe and three from the United States.

Thousands of Muslims returning to Turkey from a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia were also taken into quarantine on Sunday due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.


Jordan confirmed 12 new cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, as the central bank announced measures to help troubled businesses and a tourism sector hit hard by the impact of the crisis. The kingdom imposed measures on Saturday to fight the outbreak, including a tighter lockdown that closes all borders and bans all incoming and outgoing flights as of Tuesday.

Jordanian officials say the unprecedented measures, which also include closing schools and banning daily prayers in mosques were taken as the epidemic is spreading fast in neighbouring Egypt, Syria and Iraq.


Lebanon declared a medical state of emergency on Sunday, announcing a sweeping shutdown that included the closure of its airport and most public institutions and private companies as it looks to rein in coronavirus.

Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said Lebanon's borders, ports, and airport would shut from 18-29 March and Lebanese were obliged to remain at home except for matters of "extreme necessity".


With 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said on Saturday malls, hotels, restaurants and theatres would shut. Pharmacies, supermarkets and banks would stay open.

Netanyahu's corruption trial was also delayed on Sunday for two months, until May, due to the coronavirus crisis.


Iran on Sunday urged its citizens to stick to guidelines and stay at home to stop the new coronavirus spreading, as it announced another 113 deaths from the outbreak. The latest death toll announced by the health ministry took to 724 the official number of people to have been killed by the disease since last month.

People "should cancel all travel and stay at home so that we may see the situation improving in the coming days," ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference. Jahanpour also reported 1,209 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed infections to 13,938. Tehran province had the highest number of new infections with 251 fresh cases.


The Iraqi government has imposed a curfew in the capital Baghdad as of 17 March until 24 March to prevent coronavirus from spreading, the state news agency said on Sunday. At least 124 cases have been confirmed so far in Iraq, the Health Ministry said on Sunday, and 10 people have died.

Children attend a coronavirus workshop in Lahore, Pakistan
Yesterday's measures: a couple of weeks ago, teaching children to cough into their elbows was considered enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Now Pakistan and many other countries throughout the Islamic world have closed down schools and are either banning or discouraging large gatherings, including wedding parties and religious events

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has suspended work in government sectors except health and security for 16 days.


Yemen's Saudi-backed government said on Saturday it was suspending all flights to and from airports under its control for two weeks starting on 18 March, amid fears over the coronavirus outbreak. A statement from the office of Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed said the suspension exempted flights for humanitarian purposes. The key airports his government controls are in Aden, Sayoun and Mukalla.


Bahrain reported the Gulf's first death from the new coronavirus on Monday, as the total number of confirmed infections in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stood at 965. The deceased woman was a 65-year-old Bahraini citizen who had underlying health conditions, the health ministry said on Twitter.

Bahrain has reported 214 cases of the disease so far. Many cases in the Gulf are linked to travel with Iran, which on Sunday raised its toll to 724 dead and more than 13,900 infected. Dozens of Bahrain's cases were confirmed among citizens evacuated from Iran on flights chartered by Bahraini authorities last week.


Kuwait decided on Saturday to close all shopping malls except for those related to food supplies, the state news agency reported on Twitter. The agency added that all children's entertainment centres and male and female salons will be closed to halt the spread of coronavirus.


On Sunday, India's federal health ministry reported that the number of coronavirus infections had risen to 107, an increase of 23 from the day before, with a western state home to the country's financial capital the worst hit.

Data from the ministry showed that there were now 31 confirmed coronavirus cases in Maharashtra state, where local authorities have closed down schools, colleges and malls in most cities, including in the financial hub of Mumbai.

India proposed setting up an emergency fund to fight the coronavirus outbreak in South Asia on Sunday, with New Delhi offering $10 million to get it going, as the number of confirmed infections in the country rose past 100.

Modi said there were fewer than 150 cases in countries comprising the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but the situation ahead was uncertain.


Pakistan shut all its schools and land borders on Friday and decided to limit international flights and discourage large gatherings to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Pakistan borders China and Iran, both of which have been hit hard by the virus.

Pakistani authorities has reported 21 cases of the coronavirus but no deaths. Most of the people with infections had recently travelled to Iran, though Pakistan reported its first locally contracted case on Friday.

Qureshi said all public gatherings will need to be discouraged whether wedding parties or religious, social or political assemblies. "We think we could contain it with effective measures. We need to avoid all public gatherings."


Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Sunday he would get tested for coronavirus, while some of his ministers had also undergone precautionary tests after the Southeast Asian country's transport minister tested positive for the disease. Widodo also suggested people work from home and avoid mass gatherings, as he sought to calm rising concerns about the spread of the virus in the sprawling archipelago.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, reported on Sunday the number of infections had risen by 21 to 117. Five people with the virus have died in the country. Jakarta and several other provinces and cities have already announced school closures starting this week, and some companies are asking staff to work from home.