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Saudi political analyst accuses Qatar of 'creating coronavirus' to ruin kingdom's economy

Al-Moteari was ridiculed for her statements on social media [Twitter]

Date of publication: 2 March, 2020

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Qatar, which has faced nearly three years of blockade, has been accused of creating the novel coronavirus this week, in absurd claims that sparked ridicule on Twitter.
A prominent Saudi columnist sparked ridicule on Twitter on Monday after falsely accusing Qatar or creating the novel coronavirus in a bid to impede the upcoming the upcoming Expo 2020 World's Fair in Dubai and Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia.

Noura Al-Moteari a journalist, who has written for Dubai's government-owned Al-Bayan newspaper and Saudi Arabia's state-owned Okaz, accused Doha of paying "billions to plant the virus in China" where it was first reported.

She then claimed this was done by Qatar to "harm" the year 2020, "which was expected to be a launchpad for Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 ", she wrote to more than 250,000 followers on Twitter.

The absurd accusations prompted instant backlash on the social media platform, which later forced the writer to backtrack on the comments as mere "satire", according to the AP.

The Dubai Media Office quickly attempted to calm the storm and followed suit in describing the tweet written in a "cynical style" while distancing the Arabic-language daily from Al-Moteari.

"Noura is a freelance writer and is not an employee of Al-Bayan nor does she represent the publication's views," it told the AP. "That being said, this has no relevance to any social media policy being practiced by the publication nor the state."

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a compete diplomatic, trade and transit blockade on Qatar in June 2017. 

The four nations accused Doha of backing Islamist groups in the region and seeking closer ties with Saudi arch rival Tehran - allegations Qatar vehemently denies.

Earlier this month, Qatar criticised Saudi Arabia for refusing entry to its health minister, who had planned to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Riyadh amid the growing coronavirus panic.

Qatar's foreign ministry took to Twitter to "express its concern" that Minister for Public Health Hanan Alkuwari could not attend the meeting about preventative measures for the coronavirus, organised by the GCC General Secretariat.

"Saudi Arabia has repeatedly claimed that the GCC, especially the technical committees, have not been affected by the crisis," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Yet we are surprised to see that Saudi is politicising a humanitarian sector, that requires close collaboration and coordination due to the urgency of the situation," it added.

The ministry called on Saudi Arabia to "assume its role" as a professional and impartial host of the GCC headquarters.

Three cases

Meanwhile, Qatar on Sunday confirmed two more cases of the coronavirus, the country's health ministry said, just a day after announcing its first diagnosis.

Two Qatari citizens who who were evacuated to Doha from Iran tested positive and are in stable condition, the ministry said.

They had arrived among a group of citizens who were repatriated from Iran on 27 February and are under quarantine.

A 36-year-old Qatari man who was also evacuated from Iran tested positive on Saturday. All repatriated citizens have been confined to a 14-day period of quarantine, the government assured.

The health ministry said the infected patients had been admitted to hospital and called on citizens and residents to precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus, though it noted no reason for panic.

On Monday, Iran announced 12 more coronavirus deaths, raising the total to 66 - the highest for any country other than China, where COVID-19 first emerged.

Reports on Monday also confirmed a senior member of Iran's advisory council died after contracting the novel coronavirus, the first top official to succumb to the illness as the Islamic Republic struggles to contain the outbreak.

On Saturday, recently-elected Iranian MP Mohammed Ali Ramazani died after being tested positive for the potentially deadly virus a few days earlier, The Independent reported.

One of Iran's seven vice presidents, Massoumeh Ebtekar, and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi are among several senior officials who have been infected.

Tehran has dismissed as "rumours" a BBC Persian report, citing unnamed sources in the Islamic Republic's health system, that at least 210 people have so far died from the outbreak inside the country.

While Iran has rejected the claim as rumour, it has has scrambled to bring the outbreak under control, shutting schools, suspending cultural and sporting events.

Read also: Family fear Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has contracted novel coronavirus in Iranian jail

Iran has reported 978 confirmed cases of the new virus, while across the wider Middle East region, there are over 1,150 cases of the new coronavirus, the majority of which are linked back to Iran. 

Many of Iran's neighbours have imposed restrictions on travel to and from the Islamic Republic.

Experts worry Iran's percentage of deaths to infections, around 5.5 percent, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than current figures show.

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