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The New Arab

Tunisia, Algeria shuts land border in unprecedented move over coronavirus pandemic

Algeria and Tunisia are trying to limit the spread of COVID-19 [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 March, 2020

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For the first time in the history of the two countries, Algeria and Tunisia shut their land borders to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Algeria joined a growing list of countries shuttering its borders to stop the spread of coronavirus, as a fifth person died due to the virus.

Abdelmajdid Tebboune's government suspended air and sea travel with Europe to prevent the coronavirus spread.

Authorities had previously halted flights to Morocco, Spain, France and China, as Algeria moves to more extensively protect the country from the highly contagious COVID-19.

Another North African country, Tunisia, is following suit and closed its land crossings with Algeria at midnight.

An Algerian diplomatic source told The New Arab's Arabic-language news outlet that Tunisia's decision to close its border is a sovereign decision.

Out of respect for the two country's close ties, Tunisia informed Algeria of its plans on Monday. 

The source went on to add that both governments agreed it was in the best interests of the countries to temporarily halt travel.

Though the plan had been in place since Monday, Algeria and Tunisia decided to implement it Thursday in order to give people enough time to leave the respective countries.

This is the first-time land borders between Algeria and Tunisia have closed, and it does not include commercial crossings which will remain open to transport goods.

A total of five people have died in Algeria due to coronavirus so far.

Measures to close borders have formed a large part of the response in the Middle East, as countries attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

The Middle East response

Saudi Arabia closed mosques in an unprecedented move after 171 people were infected, and earlier this week the UAE suspended visas-on-arrival.

Oman suspended all public transport, including buses, microbuses and ferries, according to media reports coming out of the kingdom.

The restrictions, effective Thursday until further notice, exclude buses and boats travelling between the governorate of Musandam and the Masirah Island, and the Sultanate's Transport Ministry stated the decision "comes out of keenness on safety of public transport users and workers against the spread of the new coronavirus".

Oman has recorded a total of 33 coronavirus cases, whereas Iran is struggling under the burden of over 1,000 reported deaths.

On Wednesday Iran reported its biggest jump in fatalities from the coronavirus, as another 147 people died, raising the country's total death toll to 1,135.

This is a nearly 15 per cent spike in deaths, as 17,361 confirmed cases in the country.

Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi urged the public to avoid travel and crowds, telling Iranians the days ahead represented two "golden weeks" to try to curb the virus. Raisi also warned people to stop defying instructions to stay at home.

"This is not a good situation at all," he said. President Hassan Rouhani defended his government's response to the outbreak in the face of widespread criticism that Iran acted too slowly and might even have covered up initial cases, telling his Cabinet the government was being "straightforward" in announcing the outbreak on 19 February.

Special coverage: How many coronavirus cases are there in the Middle East? 

"We spoke to people in an honest way. We had no delay," he added.

"It was difficult, of course, to shut down mosques and holy sites, but we did it. It was a religious duty to do it," Rouhani said.

So far there have been 221,290 coronavirus cases globally, 8,997 deaths and 85,785 recoveries.

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