COVID-19 Ravages Middle East; Experts Worry About The Extent of Outbreak in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq; Saudi Arabia Urges Pilgrims To Reschedule

Iran and the rest of the Middle East continue the fight against the COVID-19 virus. In Iran, almost 300 people have died from drinking methanol, a form of alcohol used industrially, in the mistaken belief it protects against the virus. Drinking alcohol is forbidden under Iran’s Islamic law. Reported by The Times of Israel.Read more…

Thousands in Iran are in critical condition as a result of the virus. Iran’s military built a 2,000-bed field hospital in an exhibit center in Tehran to help local health care officials deal with the pandemic. The facility will be used for persons who have contracted the virus. In Yemen, the U.S. Agency for International Development has scaled back aid to Houthi rebel-controlled areas because the rebels are resisting measures to ensure the aid goes to those who most need it. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Meanwhile, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called on the Trump administration to ease sanctions on Iran. Biden said, “in times of global crisis, America should lead. We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disputes, however, whether sanctions are hampering Iran’s battle against the virus. Iran has been one of the nations hit hardest by the virus. Reported by Fox News.Read more…

The Trump administration may have another reason for refusing to ease sanctions. On April 1, Trump tweeted that Iran or its proxies were planning a sneak attack on U.S. assets in Iraq. “If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” Trump continued. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Iranian officials quickly responded. The Chief of Staff of Iran’s army, Mohammad Bagheri, said that the recent attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq had nothing to do with Iran, but were “a natural response by the Iraqi people.” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, also hit back, tweeting, “Don’t be mislead [sic] by usual warmongers, AGAIN. Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies. Unlike the US—which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates—Iran only acts in self-defense.” Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Saudi Arabia has called on Muslims to postpone booking pilgrimages to Mecca to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in the Middle East. Some 2 million Muslims make the pilgrimage each year. However, despite the call to postpone the pilgrimages, Saudi Arabia is not closing the site to visitors. Reported by Fox News.Read more…

At the other end of the spectrum, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has closed its doors to prevent the spread of the virus. It is the first time the church has closed it doors since 1349. Reported by Fox News. Read more…

Health officials and others are concerned that the number of people infected by COVID-19 in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq far exceed official numbers disclosed by the three governments, and that non-state actors are quarantining whole communities of patients. In a report in The Guardian, the media outlet says that officials have expressed concern that Iran and Lebanon are likely holding thousands in quarantine and that a lack of disclosure poses a serious health risk. Even more concern has been expressed over Syria, where the health care infrastructure has been weakened by 9-years of civil war, and hundreds of thousands of refugees are crammed into camps along the Syria-Turkish border. Reported by The Guardian. Read more…

Reported cases of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip surpassed 100 by the end of March. Most of those cases were in the West Bank, where at least one person has died from the virus.  Mohammed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, said that China had promised to deliver testing kits and ventilators to the Palestinians. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Hamas leader Yahya Siwar threatened to take ventilators “by force” is Israel did not send more to the Palestinian enclave. “If ventilators are not brought into [Gaza], we’ll take them by force from Israel and stop the breathing of 6 million Israelis,” Sinwar threatened, according to Israeli media. Sinwar also accused Israel of not allowing medicine into Gaza. Hamas has issued strict quarantine orders for those entering the Gaza Strip to stop the spread of the virus. “When we decided to establish compulsory quarantine facilities for people returning to Gaza, we knew that it would be a difficult decision that would cause a lot of criticism against us. It’s our first line of defense. We can’t allow the epidemic into Gaza,” Sinwar said. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Finally, a recent study suggests that middle-aged people between the ages of 30 and 60 may also have a higher risk from COVID-19 than those under 30. The study, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal, found that 4% of infected people in their forties required hospitalization; the number doubled for those in their fifties. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…