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6 March, 2020 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 6 March, 2020 01:48:34 AM
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Uncertainty looms over Hajj, 300m out of schools in world

AGENCIES, Hong Kong, Riyadh
Uncertainty looms over Hajj, 300m out of schools in world

A spike in novel coronavirus prompted Saudi Arabia to bar Muslim pilgrims from Islam’s holiest sites to contain the virus and India to smell a serious outbreak of the virus, which to date has infected more than 97000 people and killed at least 3,345 worldwide. Saudi Arabia is treading a tightrope and rolling out restrictions that essentially could prove both expensive and politically perilous. Elsewhere, 29 cases have been confirmed in India, including three who have recovered. Many of the cases are linked to a group of travelers from Italy, the hardest-hit country in Europe, said India’s Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. In Europe, Britain has recorded its first death in the new coronavirus outbreak, said England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty yesterday. NATO said it had confirmed three cases of the novel coronavirus linked to its military headquarters in Belgium --a civilian employee and two family members.

In the US, the state of California and Los Angles declared an emergency following its first coronavirus  fatality -- raising the US death toll to 11 -- and a cruise ship

was kept offshore after passengers and crew members developed symptoms. A top US health official yesterday said the overall mortality rate for the novel coronavirus was estimated at one percent or less, lower than previously thought, basing the new figure on a high number of unreported cases.

 Although, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva he was concerned that a "long list" of countries was not showing "the level of political commitment" needed to "match the level of the threat we all face."

Saudi Arabia has suspended the “umrah” year-round pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading to Mecca and Medina, raising uncertainty over the upcoming hajj—a key pillar of Islam.

The country yesterday emptied Islam's holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented shutdown state media said will last while the year-round umrah pilgrimage is suspended.

As a "precautionary measure", the area will remain closed as long as the umrah suspension lasts but prayers will be allowed inside the mosque, state-run Saudi Press Agency cited a mosque official as saying.

Additionally, the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque in the city of Medina will be closed an hour after the evening "Isha" prayers and will reopen an hour before the dawn "Fajr" prayers to allow cleaning and sterilisation, the official added.

Already reeling from slumping oil prices, the kingdom also risks losing billions of dollars it earns annually from religious tourism as it tightens access to the sites. Its measures stand in contrast to that of its regional nemesis Iran, which has struggled to contain the spread of coronavirus from its own Shiite holy sites as pilgrims and clerics appeared to defy health warnings.

The kingdom already appears wary of a potential conservative backlash from a liberalisation drive by Saudi rulers that has allowed what was once deemed un-Islamic—cinemas, concerts and mixed-gender parties.

AFP adds, Almost 300 million students worldwide faced weeks at home with Italy and India the latest to shut schools over the deadly new coronavirus, as the IMF urged an all-out global offensive against the epidemic.

South Korea -- second to China in terms of infections with cases jumping past 6,000 on Thursday -- has postponed the start of the next term until March 23.

In Japan, nearly all schools are closed after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for classes to be cancelled until early April.

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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