The Middle East at war with coronavirus

The Middle East at war with coronavirus: Top stories from 19 May
4 min read
Contact-tracing app launches in Tunisia, Kuwaiti polygamists find a way to bypass lockdown rules and an Etihad Airways aircraft lands in Israel's airport carrying aid for Palestinians.
Here's the most important coronavirus news today [TNA]

Here are five stories you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting the Middle East on 19 May:

1. Tunisia launches virus-tracking app

Tunisia on Tuesday launched a contact-tracing mobile phone app that identifies and alerts users who may have had contact with others infected with the new coronavirus.

The E7mi application, available on Android and awaiting validation for Apple's iOS, was developed by a Tunisian start-up specialised in digital marketing tools for foreign companies, the health ministry told AFP.

Like the French StopCovid application, E7mi - Arabic for "protect" - is not based on contact-tracing technology developed by Apple or Google.

If a user tests positive for Covid-19, Tunisia's Observatory of Emerging Diseases (ONME) contacts other users whose telephones have been detected close to the infected user's device.

"We started in March when we heard about the TraceTogether app in Singapore, but we wanted to do something suitable for Tunisia," said Akil Agati, head of the Wizz Labs start-up behind the app. Read more here.

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2. First UAE flight to Israel, with virus aid for Palestinians

The United Arab Emirates flew its first publicly announced flight to Israel on Tuesday, carrying medical aid to the Palestinians coping with the coronavirus pandemic, Etihad Airways said.

Etihad Airways flew a humanitarian cargo flight between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, a company spokesman said. Read more here.

3. Coronavirus curfew complicates lives of Kuwaiti polygamists

Abu Othman, like thousands of Kuwaiti men, has struggled to split his time between two wives living in separate homes amid the Gulf state's strict lockdown to combat the coronavirus.

"My life has become so complicated," the 45-year-old, who has 10 children between the two women, told AFP

"I am constantly on the move between them," he said, stressing that he could never choose one wife over the other.

Last week, Kuwait announced a nationwide "total" lockdown until May 30, suspending all but essential private and public sector activities. 

Under the curfew, residents are allowed to shop for food only once every six days, after electronically obtaining official permission, and may otherwise leave home for two-hour evening walks.

Those who break the rules, which also include mandatory use of face masks outside the home, can be fined as much as $16,000 and jailed for up to three months.

But in response to appeals by scores of polygamists like Abu Othman to ease their restrictions on movement, the Kuwaiti authorities on Sunday introduced electronic permits to men married to more than one woman for one-hour visits twice a week. Read more here.

4. Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque to reopen after Eid holiday

Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque will reopen to worshippers after the Eid holiday, a statement from its governing body said on Tuesday, two months after closing due to the coronavirus.

"The council decided to lift the suspension on worshippers entering the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque after the Eid al-Fitr holiday," a statement from the Waqf organisation said, referring to the three-day holiday expected to begin this weekend.

Islam's third holiest site was closed in late March for the first time in more than 50 years as part of measures across the globe to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

The mosque's director, Omar al-Kiswani, told AFP he hoped for no restrictions on the number of worshippers but said the governing body would announce the exact "mechanisms and measures later". Read more here.

5. UAE to allow residents stranded abroad to return

Hundreds of UAE residents who have been locked out of the country due to the coronavirus crisis will soon be allowed to return to their homes, authorities announced on Tuesday.

The ministry of foreign affairs said it would allow UAE residents who have been stranded outside the country since March - often separated from their family members - to return to the Gulf state from 1 June.

Residents will have to register with authorities for an entry permit before they are allowed back into the country, according to WAM news agency.

"The move is aimed at streamlining their safe return to the UAE," the ministry of foreign affairs said. Read more here.

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