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The New Arab Staff

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 24 June

Here's your daily coronavirus update [TNA]

Date of publication: 19 June, 2020

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Today in coronavirus news from the Middle East: Yemen broadcasts weddings on live TV, Iranian officials call for mandatory masks, Egypt's university students outraged over in-person examinations, and more.
Five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 24 June.

1. Yemen weddings air on live TV to avoid coronavirus shutdown

The Yemeni grooms sit expectantly inside a TV studio, waiting for their wedding parties to be broadcast live so that families and friends can join in the celebrations despite a coronavirus lockdown.

The pandemic has forced weddings to be scaled down or cancelled across the world but in the Yemeni capital Sanaa the traditional folk music and dancing have been beamed into people's homes instead.

Well-wishers call into the satellite channel Alhawyah to offer their congratulations to the grooms, dressed in their finest clothes and with rifles propped up next to them and traditional daggers tucked into their belts. 

As the number of coronavirus cases began to rise in war-ravaged Yemen, Alhawyah - Arabic for "identity" - began hosting wedding parties with the aim of reducing guest numbers and preventing the spread of the virus.

Participants are sprayed with disinfectant before entering the studio for the all-male gatherings, where a popular band performs.

Before the pandemic, weddings in Yemen were lively affairs that drew hundreds of guests - both men and women but separately in line with tribal tradition. The men spent the evening chewing qat, a mild narcotic that is a mainstay of Yemeni culture.

Presenter Abdulwahab Yahya said the idea of the show is "to keep the bridegrooms in good health and to help them enjoy their weddings despite coronavirus".

"Instead of guests coming to wedding halls to greet the bridegrooms, they can phone and greet them during the two-hour show," he said.

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2. Call for mandatory masks as Iran virus toll nears 10,000

An Iranian official called for mask-wearing to be made compulsory as the country on Wednesday reported its highest daily coronavirus death toll in more than two-and-a-half months.

"It is certainly required that the wearing of masks becomes mandatory," said Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi.

"If we use masks, especially in closed spaces and gatherings, we can very much reduce the virus' spread," he added in remarks broadcast on television.

Iran reported its first Covid-19 cases on February 19, and it has since struggled to contain the outbreak at the death toll nears 10,000.

It has refrained from imposing a mandatory lockdown on people to stop the virus' spread, and the use of masks and protective equipment is optional in most areas.

The Islamic Republic closed schools, cancelled public events and banned movement between its 31 provinces in March, but the government gradually lifted restrictions from April to try to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.

Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran had hit a near-two month low in daily recorded infections.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said on Wednesday that the 133 fatalities in the past 24 hours brought the country's overall virus death toll to 9,996.

That made it the deadliest day in Iran since 6 April, when the government reported 136 virus fatalities.

Read more here


3. Egypt 'killing graduates' by holding in-person exams, say students

Egypt's final-year university students have taken to social media to express their outrage over the education ministry's decision to hold exams in-person, despite the country's health crisis caused by coronavirus.

Students posted to Twitter a screenshot purported to be of a ministry meeting over online video platform Zoom.

"They hold their meetings online and decide to put our lives in danger by doing a traditional final exams, shame on you," tweeted one student.

"We want to graduate not die," tweeted another, accompanied by a comic illustration of virus particles eating students as they enter the exam hall.

The discussion prompted the hashtag #Egypt_kills_graduates to trend on Twitter.

Higher Education Minister Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar announced in May that final-year exams would begin on 1 July after an initial postponement.

Abdel-Ghaffar said that each university was responsible to set their own schedules and enforce precautionary measures to ensure the safety of students and staff.

However high school exams, which began on Sunday following a three-week delay, were also meant to have enforced social distancing measures, however these fell apart on the first day.

4. IMF says initial deal reached with Sudan to reform economy


The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday it has reached an initial agreement with Sudan's transitional government on a reform deal to help the African nation face daunting economic challenges that threaten its transition to democracy even as it battles the coronavirus pandemic.

The development comes just over a year after the removal of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the international war crimes tribunal for atrocities in the Darfur region.

The IMF said it held virtual meetings with Sudanese authorities this month to discuss the government's plans to stabilise the economy, strengthen the social safety net, and improve governance and the business environment.

"The focus is on reducing fiscal and external deficits to contain inflation, strengthening social programs to mitigate the impact of adjustment and address the fallout of Covid-19, and improving the business environment and governance," said Daniel Kanda, who led the IMF mission to Sudan.

He said the reforms envisage increasing domestic revenue and reforming energy subsidies to create room for more spending on social programmes, including the health sector and assistance to the poor.

Sudan has reported more than 8,800 cases of coronavirus, including 548 deaths, but testing is limited and the country's health system is ill-equipped to handle a pandemic.

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5. More than two-in-three of Egypt's coronavirus ICUs in use, as the country's re-opens

Intensive care units (ICUs) in Egypt's designated coronavirus treatment facilities are 71 percent occupied and 59 percent in hospitals nationwide, the country's health minister said on Tuesday, as the country prepares to re-open.

Speaking during a video conference with the government committee overseeing Egypt's pandemic response, Health Minister Hala Zayed said that the use of ventilators is currently at 23 percent.

The minister's report to the committee came ahead of an easing of lockdown restrictions on Saturday, when a night-time curfew that had been in force since 25 March will be lifted.

Egypt will also reopen restaurants, cafes, and places of worship but social distancing measures will remain in place.

Cairo's coronavirus response has come under stinging criticism from healthcare workers, who say their safety has been put at risk as they work on the frontlines of the Covid-19 epidemic.

According to a recent report by Amnesty International, whistleblowers have voiced alarm over hospital and work conditions including a shortage of personal protective equipment [PPE], inadequate infection control training, a lack of testing for healthworkers, and limited access to life-saving treatment.

Read more here

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