Iran frees 70,000 prisoners amid raging COVID-19 epidemic

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Iran on Monday announced the release of 70,000 prisoners in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while some countries in the Middle East imposed bans on foreign flights or travels as they tightened precautionary measures against the novel coronavirus.

The epidemic continued raging in Iran, the hardest-hit country in the region, where a total of 7,161 people were confirmed with COVID-19 infection as of Monday, 237 of whom have died and 2,394 have recovered.Meanwhile, Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education revealed that 20 Iranians died in the past two days from drinking industrial alcohol as a wrong way to prevent the coronavirus infection. They were among the 331 people who were reportedly poisoned by wrong alcohol consumption. On Monday, more confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection were reported in several Middle East countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Palestine, Tunisia, Oman, Palestine, and Kuwait.

The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention announced 14 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 59. The new cases included four UAE citizens, three Italians, two Bangladeshis, two Nepalese citizens, one Russian, one Indian and one Syrian. In Cairo, Egyptian Health Ministry announced seven new COVID-19 cases, bringing to 55 the total number of confirmed cases in the country. The new cases included four foreigners and three Egyptians. In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority reported six new cases of coronavirus infection, bringing the total number of the infected Palestinians to 25. Five of the new cases were confirmed in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and another in the city of Tulkarem.

In Tunis, Tunisian Ministry of Health reported three new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to five. The three cases were detected in the provinces of Mahdia, Tunis and Bizerte. In Muscat, the Omani Health Ministry reported two new coronavirus cases, bringing to 18 the total number of infected people in the country. The two cases were both Omani citizens, who returned from Iran recently. Kuwait also reported a new coronavirus case, bringing to 65 the total number of the confirmed cases. The new victim reportedly returned home from Iran recently. In Beirut, the Rafic Hariri University Hospital announced nine more COVID-19 cases in the country, where the total number of confirmed cases increased to 41.

To contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, some countries in the region on Monday took new precautionary measures, including suspension of foreign travels and flights. Saudi Arabia imposed a ban on its citizens and residents from traveling to 14 countries and suspended flights to them. It also denied the entry of those coming from these countries, and those who stayed in these countries during the 14 days prior to their arrival. The countries included the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, South Korea, Egypt, Italy, Iraq, Oman, France, Germany, Turkey and Spain. In response, the Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national carrier, suspended its flights to and from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

EgyptAir, the flag carrier of Egypt, also decided to suspend flights to all cities in Saudi Arabia, starting from Monday. Syria, which has been free from COVID-19 cases so far, decided to suspend flights to Iran and Iraq as precaution. Egypt also decided on Monday to suspend all large gatherings over coronavirus concerns. Qatar announced the suspension of activities in all schools and universities starting Tuesday amid concerns over the outbreak of the coronavirus. The move came one day after the Qatari Health Ministry banned the entry of travellers from 14 countries as the number of registered COVID-19 cases in the Gulf state rose to 15.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Health Minister Jaafar Sadiq Allawi lauded China’s help for boosting Iraq’s medical capabilities to confront the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Allawi made the comments during a meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Iraq Zhang Tao and a team of Chinese experts sent to Iraq by the Red Cross Society of China to help combat the epidemic. “The Iraqi health ministry is seeking to develop the capabilities of prevention, awareness and treatment of coronavirus by cooperation with the Chinese team of experts,” Allawi said. In another development, Saudi Arabia on Monday announced a donation of 10 million U.S. dollars to the World Health Organization (WHO) to support the efforts to combat the novel coronavirus.

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