Bahrain Roundup 2020: Coronavirus Paralyzes Daily Life, Claims Lives of 352 People

2021-07-08 - 5:29 p

Bahrain Mirror (Roundup 2020): On February 24, 2020, Bahrain announced the first Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. The deadly virus that was first discovered in China claimed the lives of 352 people, as thousands contracted the disease.

The Health Ministry declared recording the first confirmed Coronavirus case of a Bahraini citizen who came from Iran. He was suspected of contracting the virus and exhibiting symptoms, thus immediately admitted to Ebrahim Khalil Kano Medical Center in Salmaniya for treatment and isolation. The following day, on February 25, 2020, 9 new cases were recorded of Bahraini and Saudi citizens, coming from Iran through Dubai and Sharjah via Bahrain International Airport. And soon enough, the Civil Aviation Affairs announced the suspension of all flights coming from Dubai International Airport and Sharjah International Airport. The Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs also said (February 25, 2020) that it had decided to ban citizens from traveling to Iran due to the pandemic outbreak, noting that "the decision is in effect until further notice."

On February 26, Bahrain announced the suspension of classes in schools and universities for a period of two weeks, explaining that "the measure is a precaution to ensure the safety of students in light of the precautions taken by the authorities." On February 27, Bahrain announced the suspension of all incoming and outgoing flights with Iraq and Lebanon until further notice, as part of its measures to contain the spread of the Coronavirus. On February 28, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Bahraini citizens in Iran to register their data by calling a designated phone number. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health in Bahrain said that the country had detected seven new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections to 33. On the 28th, the Civil Service Bureau issued directives to government agencies to halt using the attendance fingerprint system for a period of two weeks as a precautionary measure amid the Coronavirus outbreak.

On March 1, the Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society called on all citizens and residents to cooperate and provide facilitations with regards to Coronavirus testing. Three senior Shiite clerics (Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi, Sheikh Muhammad Salih Al-Rubaie and Sheikh Muhammad Sanqour) issued a statement on March 2, calling for the cessation of all religious activities at funeral halls (Ma'tam) and other religious sites to prevent the spread of the virus. Among the major Coronavirus repercussions was the issue of Bahrainis stranded in Iran. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi confirmed that his country had expressed its willingness to return the Bahrainis stranded in Iran to their country, noting; however, that the Bahraini side did not take any action to bring them home. He highlighted that due to the Bahraini government's neglect, "about 1,300 Bahraini citizens who had come to Iran for the purpose of Ziyara (religious practice) and tourism are forced to stay in Iran for an extended time against their will."

Al-Wefaq Society said on March 6 that the actual number of Bahrainis stranded in Iran amounted to 2,130, stressing that "the regime in Bahrain refuses to return them, abandoning its most basic responsibilities." This came at a time when Bahrain announced that it will grant members of Formula 1 teams an exemption from the "Coronavirus ban." After a campaign of social and media pressure, the Bahraini authorities agreed to start a program to evacuate those stranded in Iran. On March 11, the Ministry of Health chartered a plane carrying 165 male and female citizens, who were subjected upon arrival to laboratory tests. It was revealed that there were 77 existing cases among them, as they were all transferred to the isolation and treatment center.

Soon after, some voices rose calling for a halt to the evacuation of stranded citizens in Iran. In a statement issued on March 12, Bahrain's senior religious scholars denounced these demands, stressing that they are "unconstitutional and incompatible with the teachings of religion and human values."

On March 11, a number of political prisoners were released, who served between one and eight years in prison, with a few days or months remaining of their sentences, over concerns that virus would spread among inmates. Later, the country's King, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, issued a decree pardoning 901 prisoners "for humanitarian reasons under the current circumstances." The majority of these were criminally charged prisoners, as the percentage of political prisoners who were released amounted to 17% of the 1490 prisoners who were actually released. For his part, Minister of Interior Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said that the ministry has conducted a thorough study with the aim of determining who meets the objective and legal conditions for alternative penalties, taking into account female inmates, young people and patients who require special care.

In a statement issued on March 11, Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassim called for stopping religious and social activities to prevent the spread of Coronavirus until further notice, until "the danger is lifted in order to preserve lives."

On March 13, Bahrain's Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa accused Iran of launching a biological aggression against his country, which was strongly rejected by Iranian speakers. The Bahraini minister said during a meeting in the House of Representatives that Iran's silence about the spread of the virus at the beginning "allowed a dangerous virus to travel abroad, and in my estimation, this constitutes a form of biological aggression that is prohibited internationally."

On March 13, Formula 1 President Chase Carey officially announced the cancellation of the Formula 1 race.

On March 16, Bahrain recorded the first Coronavirus death of a 65-year-old woman. According to the Health Ministry, this was the first Coronavirus-related casualty in the Gulf region. On the same day, Sayed Hameed Sayed Mostafa was the fifth to die among Bahrainis stranded in Iran.

On March 16, Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society called on citizens to volunteer to combat the Coronavirus. The Society appreciated the efforts and endeavors made by the people of Bahrain and all concerned parties at all levels in combating the Coronavirus. On March 17, Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi called for standing in solidarity to face the Coronavirus, demanding compliance with health guidelines.

On March 22, Bahrain's Ministry of Health announced the arrival of the second batch of citizens stranded in Iran on March 23. However, the flight, which was scheduled to leave the holy city of Mashhad towards Bahrain International Airport, was cancelled on the same day for "logistic reasons", the Ministry of Health said.

On March 22, the second case of death was recorded of a Bahraini 51-year-old woman. Another Bahraini citizen, 65, died on March 24.

On March 26, 61 Bahrainis arrived in Bahrain on board a flight from Iran among the second batch of citizens stranded in Iran.

On March 27, Muscat airport security ordered 76 Bahrainis who were stranded in Iran to return to the Iranian city of Mashhad via Doha, after the Bahraini authorities refused to receive them. They were supposed to return to Bahrain via Gulf Air flight 563 after they traveled to Muscat through Doha at their own expense. However, the crew refused to allow them to mount the plane. They were returned the following day via a plane affiliated with the Al-Salam Oman Air. The Gulf Air refusal caused a popular outrage on social media. Meanwhile, the Omani authorities pressured their Bahraini counterpart to return them on another flight, especially with the decision to close Omani air, which was coming into effect on March 29, 2020.

Later, on the same day, "Oman Airports" said in a statement that Gulf Air violated international travel regulations after it rejected to return stranded Bahrainis despite meeting all conditions.

On March 28, Qatari authorities banned 31 of the Bahrainis stranded in Iran from travelling to Oman, based on the Sultanate of Oman's instructions. In a remarkable move, the Government of Qatar decided to host them, according to an official statement. An official statement by Al-Wefaq said on March 28 that Bahrain "is putting various obstacles in place to prevent the return of those stranded and that more than 1,000 Bahraini citizens remain stranded in Iran, Qatar, Jordan and other countries."

After the Qatari announcement, the Bahraini authorities responded by arranging an evacuation flight on March 29 for citizens stranded in Doha, coming from Iran.

On April 3, 99 citizens were evacuated among the fourth batch of Bahrainis stranded in Iran via a plane with Kish airlines from Mashhad city.

The Bahraini authorities announced a plan to evacuate about 3000 citizens across the world in batches that were supposed to be completed by the end of May 2020. This was criticized by activists due to the time difference in the evacuation flights, despite the high capacity. Meanwhile, Sayed Abdullah Al-Ghuraifi spoke about the necessity to accelerate the return of those trapped in Iran, expressing his appreciation for the state's efforts in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.

On April 6, the fifth batch of citizens stranded in Iran arrived in Bahrain. They amounted to 120 Bahrainis.

On April 14, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim reiterated his call to release prisoners, saying "there is no excuse after the Coronavirus outbreak".

On April 19, the Ministry of Health announced the arrival of a Gulf Air plane coming from Iran as part of the evacuation plan for citizens abroad, in accordance with the necessary medical precautions.

On April 23, Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim considered that citizens are not required to abide by a decision made by the Jaffaria Endowments Directorate banning the recitation of the Quran, supplications, and Hussaini Majlis Aza' (elegies) through loudspeakers during the month of Ramadan. He called on the Endowments Directorate to reverse its decision.

On May 13, the Bahraini authorities summoned a large number of heads of mosques and obsequies from different Bahraini areas over accusations of breaking the law by turning on loudspeakers. Some obsequies heads were forced to sign a pledge after using loudspeakers and were threatened with prison terms and fines reaching up to 10,000 dinars.

On June 4, the Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments announced postponing the resumption of Friday prayers due the increase in Coronavirus cases.

On June 15, Bahrain announced recording more than 18,000 Coronavirus cases since the pandemic outbreak and the deaths of 23.

On June 16, the authorities announced the resumption of sports activities and local sports leagues starting from mid-July, without spectators.

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