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Yemen Curfews Extended, Aid Suspended  03/27 06:21

   BEIRUT (AP) -- As countries across the Middle East tighten restrictions on 
movement to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a spokesman for the U.S. Agency 
for International Development said Thursday that it would suspend humanitarian 
aid to parts of Yemen over restrictions by the Houthi rebels that predate the 

   A spokesman for USAID, one of the largest donors to U.N. operations in 
Yemen, told The Associated Press that it will "partially suspend" its 
operations the following day in Houthi rebel-held areas, where 70% of Yemenis 

   The decision came after the Houthis have spent months preventing U.N. 
agencies from using biometric testing and taking other measures to ensure aid 
flows to beneficiaries. The timing of the decision raised concerns that it 
could worsen Yemen's humanitarian crisis, among the worst in the world.

   In Iraq and Lebanon, authorities extended far-reaching curfews for two 
weeks, while in hard-hit Iran, the death toll jumped by 157, prompting new 
steps to limit public gatherings and domestic travel. 

   In Saudi Arabia, authorities announced a total lockdown on the capital, 
Riyadh, and Islam's two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, in addition to a 
nationwide curfew. The United Arab Emirates entered an overnight weekend 

   Meanwhile, leaders of the world's most powerful economies, who had come 
under criticism for failing to take cohesive action against the pandemic, 
convened virtually to coordinate a stronger response. The G20 meeting, chaired 
by Saudi Arabia's King Salman, resulted in collective pledges to inject $4.8 
trillion into the global economy to counteract the social and financial impacts 
of the pandemic. 

   Yemen, reeling from the world's worst humanitarian crisis after five years 
of war, has not yet reported a case of the coronavirus. But the suspension by 
USAID threatens to leave the country even more vulnerable to contagion. 

   "The U.S. government has made the difficult decision to reduce aid until we 
can be confident that U.S. taxpayer assistance will reach those for whom it's 
intended," the official said on condition of anonymity because they weren't 
authorized to brief the media. 

   Last year, the Houthis blocked around half of U.N. aid programs, many of 
which are directed at areas on the verge of famine. The rebels have resisted 
efforts by U.N. agencies to ensure that humanitarian aid is not diverted from 
civilians to rebel fighters and their supporters.

   Yemen's conflict, which pits Iran-backed Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led 
coalition, has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of 
people. On Thursday, the warring sides expressed support for U.N. 
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call for a freeze in fighting so 
authorities could focus their resources on the health emergency. 

   In a statement, the U.N. envoy to Yemen urged the leaders to "put their 
words into action" and "fight the common enemy, COVID-19."

   Iraq, another health care system weakened by unrest and war, recorded seven 
more coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday, its highest jump in 24 hours. At 
least 36 people among 382 confirmed infected cases have died. Iraq's Cabinet 
extended the lockdown until April 11, as the army dispatched units for 
enforcement and religious figures appealed to the public to stay home. 

   Lebanon, which has recorded 386 cases and six fatalities, extended a 
lockdown of its 5 million people until April 12, Easter Sunday, likely to 
dampen celebrations among its significant Christian population. The government 
broadened its shut-down to include all public institutions and ordered 
essential stores, such as pharmacies and supermarkets, to close at nightfall. 

   In Iran, which is battling the worst outbreak in the region, the death toll 
rose to 2,234 on Thursday. There are more than 29,000 confirmed cases in Iran, 
where authorities have encouraged people to stay home but refrained from 
imposing the strict containment measures seen elsewhere. 

   However, President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday announced more restrictions, 
including a ban on public gatherings and transport between cities, as well as a 
closure of public parks. 

   Rouhani claimed that despite crippling U.S. sanctions, Iran is coping better 
than other countries. The government is offering a $5 billion package to 
support struggling businesses, and will extend low-interest loans to companies 
that retain their workforce, he said. It also pledged $1 billion to assist the 
overwhelmed health care system and the unemployed. 

   The lockdown of the Saudi cities of Riyadh, Mecca and Medina, includes a 
15-hour curfew starting at 3 p.m., whereas the rest of the kingdom is under an 
11-hour nightly curfew. Saudi Arabia has confirmed 1012 cases and four deaths. 

   Jordan, which has recorded 212 infections, announced on Thursday that anyone 
who flouts its nightly curfew will be fined up to 500 dinars (around $700). 
Repeat offenders could face up to a year's imprisonment. Only essential shops 
are allowed to operate in the kingdom. The government placed the densely 
populated northern city of Irbid, about 60 miles from Amman, the capital, under 
quarantine as it recorded 26 cases in the area. 

   In the UAE, a weekend overnight curfew began Thursday at 8 p.m., following 
the closures of malls, airports and beaches. Public transport will halt over 
the weekend for nationwide disinfection. Police in Dubai and the nearby emirate 
of Sharjah used drones to urge people to stay indoors. 

   The U.S. Navy said two sailors deployed to the UAE have tested positive for 
the virus while transiting through the island nation of Bahrain. Cmdr. Rebecca 
Rebarich, a Navy spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, told The 
Associated Press that other sailors traveling with the two infected had been 
quarantined for 14 days.

   Rebarich declined to identify the unit or the number of sailors involved. 
However, the UAE hosts a Riverine squadron at a naval base in Fujairah on the 
Gulf of Oman, near the strategic Strait of Hormuz

   The global death toll from the new coronavirus has climbed past 21,000 and 
the number of infections has surpassed 472,000, according to a count kept by 
Johns Hopkins University. 

   For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such 
as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially 
older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe 
illness, including pneumonia and death.


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