Morocco, Jordan announce new travel suspensions

Al-Aqsa mosque closed.
Sunday 15/03/2020
Tourists wait to be repatriated to their countries as Morocco suspends flights to European countries over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fears, at Marrakech airport, Morocco, March 15, 2020. (Reuters)
Tourists wait to be repatriated to their countries as Morocco suspends flights to European countries over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fears, at Marrakech airport, Morocco, March 15, 2020. (Reuters)

Moroccan and Jordanian authorities have announced new air travel bans as countries across the Arab world struggle to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Islamic endowment overseeing the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, also said Sunday  the mosque itself and other buildings will be closed over concerns about the new coronavirus. Sheikh Omar Kiswani, the director of the mosque, said Sunday that prayers will continue to be held outdoors. The closure is to continue indefinitely.

Morocco has suspended flights to and from another 25 countries over coronavirus fears, the foreign ministry said on Saturday, extending an earlier travel ban that covered China, Spain, Italy, France and Algeria.

Other countries with which air travel is now suspended are Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Mauritania, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Oman, Portugal, Senegal, Switzerland, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the UAE.

The total number of coronavirus cases in Morocco has risen to 18, including Transport, Logistics and Water Minister Abdelkader Amara who contracted the virus while on a European trip, the state news agency said.

Morocco has closed all schools and cancelled gatherings of more than 50 people to stop the coronavirus spreading.

Jordan said Saturday it would halt flights, close its land borders and shut down schools, places of worship and public gatherings to stop the spread of novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz told official news agency Petra that "all flights into and out of the kingdom will be suspended from Tuesday until further notice."

He said exceptions would be made for cargo flights and those carrying diplomats and staff of international organisations, providing they follow health ministry guidelines -- including a two-week quarantine.

"All land and sea crossings and airports are closed except for cargo," he added, saying Jordanians in neighbouring countries who needed to return could do so but would also face quarantine.

He also announced that the country's mosques and churches would be closed and that hospital and prison visits would be suspended.

Razzaz also announced a two-week closure of all educational institutions from Sunday, the start of the working week.

In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered schools and universities to close for two weeks starting Sunday, his spokesman announced.

Tiny, oil-rich Kuwait meanwhile shut down malls, salons and barbershops to slow the spread of the virus. Authorities allowed coffee shops to remain open, but said no more than five customers can wait in line at a time and must be a meter apart from each other.

Saudi Arabia has turned back a ship carrying some 2,000 passengers, mostly from Sudan, as a preventive measure

Sudan has only reported one case, a man in his 50s who died after traveling to the UAE. But there are concerns that its medical infrastructure, which has suffered from decades of sanctions, is ill-equipped to detect or contain an outbreak.

Dalia Samhouri, a senior official with the World Health Organization's regional office, urged countries to take further steps to aggressively track those who have been in contact with confirmed cases and to impose strict quarantine measures.

“It’s not too late to control the situation or to contain the situation,” she said.

In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's trial on serious corruption charges, which was supposed to begin this week, was postponed for two months due to restrictions on public gatherings.

Netanyahu has meanwhile been pressing for an emergency unity government with his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, following three inconclusive elections and more than a year of political deadlock. Gantz has appeared open to the idea.

Israel imposed sweeping travel and quarantine measures more than a week ago but has seen its number of confirmed cases double in the last two days, to around 200. On Saturday, the government said restaurants, malls, movies, gyms and daycare centers would close. Schools and universities have already been shut down until next month.

___

(News agencies)