The new coronavirus continued its spread across some of the most-vulnerable nations of the Mideast on Tuesday as the International Monetary Fund warned that a lack of medical supplies in Iraq, Sudan and Yemen could lead to a surge in prices.
There are some 30,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the Mideast, the vast majority in the hard-hit nation of Iran. While most recover from the virus and the COVID-19 illness that it causes, bottoming crude oil prices have put additional strain on even the wealthiest countries of the region.
The IMF, which traditionally has urged governments to implement greater austerity measures, now urges Mideast governments to offer temporary tax relief and cash transfers.
``Given the large numbers of people employed in the service sector, there will be wide reverberations if unemployment rises and wages and remittances fall,'' the IMF's director for the Middle East, Jihad Azour, said in statement.
In Egypt, tourist cancellations have reached 80%, while retail and hospitality sectors have also been hard-hit in countries like the United Arab Emirates where tourism is a pillar of the economy, according to the IMF.
The arrival of the global pandemic in Syria with one positive case, as well as in the Gaza Strip, has raised concerns the virus could run rampant in some of the most vulnerable areas in the Middle East. War-torn Libya and Yemen, which have yet to report any cases, are also a source of concern.
The worst outbreak in the Mideast is unfolding in Iran, where authorities reported another 127 deaths on Monday, bringing the total number of fatalities to more than 1,800 amid more than 23,000 confirmed cases. The dead included the mother-in-law of the son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
Lines have formed outside grocery stores, banks and gas stations across the Syrian capital, Damascus, as people braced for wider closures. The government has already closed restaurants, cafes and other businesses, and has halted public transportation.
In Egypt's Mediterranean city of Alexandria, dozens of people early Tuesday prayed to God for help against the virus. Online video showed people praying from their windows and balconies. Others showed some three dozen people marching in a side street and chanting: ``There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Messenger,'' drawing criticism from people who said the demonstrators should have stayed at home.