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Jordan on virus lockdown as Iranian death toll rises

Another 123 lives have been lost in Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East.

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The streets of the Jordanian Capital are seen empty after the start of a nationwide curfew, amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic (AP)

The streets of the Jordanian Capital are seen empty after the start of a nationwide curfew, amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic (AP)

The streets of the Jordanian Capital are seen empty after the start of a nationwide curfew, amid concerns over the coronavirus pandemic (AP)

Air raid sirens have echoed across Jordan’s capital Amman to mark the start of a three-day curfew, the latest mass lockdown in the Middle East aimed at containing the coronavirus.

The outbreak has claimed another 123 lives in Iran, home to the region’s worst outbreak.

The latest deaths bring Iran’s overall toll to 1,556 amid 20,610 confirmed cases.

Iran has faced widespread criticism for its lagging response to the outbreak, which has even infected and killed some senior officials.

In one of the strictest measures yet, Jordan has ordered all shops to close and all people to stay off the streets until at least Tuesday, when it plans to announce specific times for shopping.

Amer Sartawi, a spokesman for the public security directorate, said authorities have already arrested 392 people accused of violating the curfew. He warned that anyone violating the orders would face legal action.

The streets of Amman
The streets of the Jordanian capital are seen empty after the start of a nationwide curfew (AP)

Several countries in the Middle East have closed schools, universities and non-essential businesses. Many are threatening fines or jail time to those caught violating the decrees.

Egypt announced that all museums and archaeological sites, including the famed pyramids at Giza, would be closed from Monday until the end of March.

Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said authorities would sterilise all sites during the closure.

Egypt also announced the temporary suspension of Friday prayers and other congregations in all mosques.

A highway in Tehran
Cars drive in a highway in northern Tehran, Iran (AP)

The Coptic Orthodox Church cancelled all services and wedding parties, and said funeral processions would be limited to family members of the deceased.

Egypt has reported 294 cases and 10 deaths, and there are increasing calls for a curfew.

The most populous Arab nation is home to more than 100 million people.

The capital, Cairo, is one of the most densely populated cities on earth, with more than 20 million residents.

Iran has been much slower to take action against the virus.

It has urged people not to travel during the Persian New Year, a major national holiday, but many appear to be ignoring the guidance.

Virus Outbreak Egypt
Egypt has suspended all commercial flights (AP)

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the number of cases has increased in many popular tourist destinations.

Iran has not ordered businesses to close, though many have done so on their own.

Authorities only began closing popular religious pilgrimage sites earlier this week, long after the first virus cases were detected.

There are concerns the country’s health care infrastructure, weakened by severe US sanctions, could be overwhelmed.

Most people only experience minor flu-like symptoms from the coronavirus and recover within a few weeks, but the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear well. It can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems.

Gaza City outbreak measures
Workers spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus, at the main market in Gaza City (AP)

More than 275,000 people have been infected worldwide. The virus has killed more than 11,000 people, while more than 88,000 have recovered.

Israel reported another 178 infections, bringing its total to 883, the second highest number in the region behind Iran.

But that appears to be the result of stepped-up testing. Israel’s health ministry has only reported one fatality and says only 15 patients are seriously ill. The ministry says it has tested more than 17,000 people.

In Iraq, Lt Gen Othman al-Ghanimi, the army chief of staff, ordered a 50% reduction in on-duty personnel. Officers already on leave were instructed not to return until March 31, and women were granted extended leave.

Iraq, which has reported 193 cases and 14 deaths from the coronavirus, is still battling remnants of the Islamic State group.

In war-torn Syria, which has yet to report any cases, the military said it was distributing masks and gloves to soldiers and suspending group sports as a precautionary measure. It said it was also suspending all recruitment until April 22.

In the United Arab Emirates, the country’s National Media Council announced a temporary ban on “the distribution of all print newspapers, magazines and marketing material” beginning on Tuesday, saying it was a measure to stop the spread of the virus.

The tiny, energy-rich nation of Qatar meanwhile warned citizens and residents to honour home quarantine rules. The state-run Qatar News Agency said authorities “captured 10 people” who broke the rules. It said those who disobey the orders could face prosecution.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian security forces arrested 20 Muslim preachers for allegedly violating a ban on holding Friday prayers, the Voice of Palestine reported. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, has closed mosques and barred all group prayers.

The Palestinian Authority has reported 52 confirmed cases, including 17 who recovered. Jordan has reported 85 infections, including one who recovered. Qatar has reported 460 cases, including 10 who recovered.

PA