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The Middle East At war with coronavirus: Top stories from 2 April

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Date of publication: 2 April, 2020

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Algeria releases 5,000 prisoners in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus and the World Health Organisation warns Iraq that coronavirus cases are likely to balloon.

Here are five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East and beyond on 2 April:

1. Iraq's coronavirus cases expected to rise sharply, says WHO

The World Health Organisation has warned that Iraq could experience a sharp rise in coronavirus cases within the next 10 days, as the death toll in the country climbed to 51 on Wednesday.

Iraq's healthcare system is in a state of crisis and though it has lower numbers than other parts of the Middle East – 697 known infections – its minimal health infrastructure could pose a serious problem in the coming weeks.

Dr Adham Ismail, the WHO's representative in Iraq, said the increase in testing will be of "high importance in terms of infection transmission and control", according to The National.

Three laboratories have been made operational for Covid-19 testing in Najaf, Basra and Baghdad Medical City in Baghdad, the WHO said.

The spread of the virus in Iraq could in part be due to neighbouring Iran, whose deaths rose to 3,000.

2. Algeria orders release of prisoners

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune issued presidential pardons for 5,037 prisoners on Wednesday following a rise in cases of Covid-19, Anadolu Agency reported.

"President Tebboune has signed a presidential decree pardoning 5,037 prisoners and non-detained individuals who received final court rulings and whose sentence is 18 months away from being completed," a statement released by the presidency said.

The president also ordered a partial reduction for prisoners whose remaining sentences range from 18 months to 20 years.

It is not clear whether the pardons are linked to the outbreak of coronavirus.

There have been 58 confirmed deaths due to coronavirus complications and some 747 people are infected.

3. Amnesty calls on Tunisia to release prisoners

Amnesty International has called on Tunisia to reduce the number of people detained for breaching emergency healthcare measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

"We understand that anyone violating the national lockdown and social distancing measures potentially hinders the state's efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19," said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Read more: Tunisia deploys police robots to enforce coronavirus lockdown

"But detaining even more people, given the elevated risk of transmission, places their health in jeopardy and can only serve to further increase the current health crisis."

President Kais Said granted special pardon to 1,420 prisoners on Tuesday to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons.

Meanwhile, Elyes Fakhfakh, the country's head of government, announced that a national lockdown would be enforced from 22 March and police have arrested at least 1,400 people for violating curfew or confinement measures.

4. Palestinian citizens of Israel deprived of coronavirus testing

As coronavirus spreads across Israel, its Palestinian citizens are being deprived of adequate tests for the deadly illness.

The Palestinian-Israeli Citizen Rights Association sent a letter to the director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Health on Monday urging for an investigation into the low rate of coronavirus diagnoses among the country's Palestinian population.


"The concentration of medical resources is limited to Jewish towns and is absent in the Arab towns," the letter urged.
Out of 3,865 reported coronavirus cases in Israel, only 38 are Israeli-Palestinian. This is despite one-in-five Israeli citizens being Palestinian.

Read more here.

5. UN refugee agency seeks $27 million for Jordan's fight against coronavirus

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched an appeal on Wednesday for $27 million to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in Jordan, particularly among refugees.

Read More: Trapped with domestic abusers: How Covid-19 lockdowns are endangering vulnerable women across the Middle East

The emergency funding is part of a global appeal which calls for $255 million to ''urgently support preparedness and response measures for refugees and those forcibly displaced'', UNHCR said on a statement on its website.

The money will go to maintaining essential services, such as hospital and clinics, as well as being funnelled directly towards refugee camps to provide immediate cash assistance and enhance capacity to intervene in urgent referrals for domestic violence cases.

Read more here.


Agencies contributed to this report.

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