Spike in COVID-19 cases in Mideast

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — A spike in cases in the Middle East Gulf saw new coronavirus cases going past 10,000 yesterday, with most infected people either in Iran or having recently travelled there.

Countries in the region have imposed varying levels of restrictions on travel, from wholesale halting of all commercial flights in Kuwait, to Saudi Arabia banning travel to 39 countries.

Regional stock markets were down, reflecting investor concerns and nerves felt globally as oil prices plunge and tourism revenue is eroded by the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday officially designated the outbreak a “pandemic”.

Iran said the virus has killed 354 people and infected some 9,000 people nationwide. There are concerns that the number of infections across Iran is much higher than the confirmed cases reported by the government, which is struggling to contain or manage its spread.

The rising casualty figures each day in Iran suggest the fight against the new coronavirus is far from over.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.

Because there is still no vaccine for the infectious disease, countries are implementing tough measures to restrict its spread, as well as the impact an outbreak could have on emergency rooms and intensive care units.

This week, Qatar reported a massive jump in cases of the new coronavirus late on Wednesday with 262 now infected.

More than 200 new cases had been found in quarantine. In Bahrain, confirmed cases also rose by nearly 70 per cent this week to 189 confirmed cases, after some 77 new cases were confirmed on a returning flight of Bahrainis from Iran.

Kuwait yesterday closed all workplaces and non-essential business for two weeks, including restaurants, cafes and health clubs.

Schools and universities have already been suspended. All commercial flights are being halted to Kuwait starting today. The country has over 70 confirmed cases of the new virus. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, announced a jump in cases from 21 to 45 late Wednesday, among them 12 Egyptians under quarantine in Makkah.

The government has suspended pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites, barring entry of all pilgrims to Makkah and Madinah to curb the virus’ spread. It has also cordoned off the eastern province of Qatif.

Paramedics test samples taken from patients suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, at a laboratory in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran. PHOTO: AP