Children wear face masks as they sit in a baby cart as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, at Beirut international airport, Lebanon. Reuters
Muslim worshippers walk past pigeons after the noon prayers outside the Grand Mosque in the Holy City of Makkah. AP
In the Mideast, there have been over 7,600 confirmed cases, with the vast majority in hard-hit Iran. The country's health ministry said the new coronavirus has killed another 43 people, pushing death toll to 237 amid 7,161 confirmed cases. Experts worry Iran may be under reporting its cases.
Earlier on Monday, coronavirus concerns led Saudi Arabia to cut off air and sea travel with Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, South Korea, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The kingdom had earlier closed off its land borders as well.
"Out of concern to protect the health of citizens and residents and ensure their safety, the kingdom’s government decided to temporarily suspend the travel,” it said in a statement attributed to an unnamed Interior Ministry official.
An Etihad Airways plane flies over an undisclosed location. File
Abu Dhabi's carrier Etihad, which operated 12 flights daily to Saudi Arabia, said three flights had been airborne at the time of the announcement. When those planes landed in Dammam, Jiddah and Riyadh, only Saudi citizens could disembark, with others having to return to Abu Dhabi, the airline said.
Saudi Arabia already shut down access to the holiest sites in Islam over concerns about the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. The virus usually leaves people with only mild to moderate symptoms, but because it’s new, experts can’t say for sure how far it will ultimately spread and how much damage it will do, both in terms of health and the global economy.
A student wearing protective face mask walks with her friend on a beach in Beirut. AFP
In Iran, the judiciary's Mizan news agency said authorities had temporarily released some 70,000 prisoners over concerns about the virus spreading in the country's prisons, up from the 54,000 previously announced.
Bahrain, which has seen 109 confirmed cases, ordered government officials not to travel abroad for two weeks.
Worldwide, there are over 110,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus with more than 3,800 deaths attributed to it.
The new virus has caused major economic disruptions,
An EGYPTAIR flight crew member wears a protective mask during service on the flight from Cairo to Luxor on Monday. Reuters
Meanwhile, authorities in Egypt’s southern tourist hub of Luxor announced the city would close to tourists on Monday until medical experts could examine all hotel guests and cruise ship passengers in the area. Two cruise ships on the Nile River have been quarantined there in recent days, after 45 people on board one of the ships tested positive for the coronavirus. There were no immediate details on the second ship.
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the Health Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) nationals wishing to enter the UAE should undergo COVID-19 medical test and place themselves under house quarantine for 14 days, said a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Friday.
Several Arab ambassadors praised the UAE’s humanitarian initiative to evacuate citizens of friendly countries from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreak, and host them in a humanitarian city in the country, to ensure their safety and recovery and provide them treatment.
Thailand reported 965 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday after registering record daily rises in the past two days as the country deals with a third wave of infections and a highly contagious variant.
Activists urged people this year to stage symbolic protests from the start of the holiday on Tuesday, including by painting a three-finger salute used by demonstrators on traditional Thingyan pots filled with flowers, which are typically displayed at this time.
Japan has argued the water release is necessary to press ahead with the complex decommissioning of the plant after it was crippled by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, pointing out that similarly filtered water is routinely released from nuclear plants around the world.