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Coronavirus: Kindness spreads as Middle East scrambles to contain deadly virus

Volunteers across the region have extended a helping hand to those affected by Covid-19
A Syrian refugee helps a child put on a face mask in al-Wazzani, southern Lebanon on 14 March 2020 (Reuters)

The coronavirus outbreak is devastating lives – and livelihoods – around the world. 

As of Sunday, the number of confirmed global cases of Covid-19 has surpassed 300,000, while the death toll nears 13,000, according to Reuters.

The outbreak has led to the disruption of travel, employment, education, entertainment and many more aspects of people's daily lives.

In the Middle East and North Africa, cases have been confirmed in nearly every country. Several governments, including Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, have implemented lockdowns to help contain the spread of the virus.

Despite the unprecedented upheaval, many in the Middle East are fighting the pandemic in the best way they know how: with acts of kindness.

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Middle East Eye takes a look at how people in various parts of the region are donating their time, money and expertise to help those in need during this time of crisis and uncertainty.

Distributing food and supplies

In Iran, more than 21,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported thus far, making it the worst-hit country in the Middle East.

A person dies every 10 minutes from Covid-19 in the country, Iran's health ministry said on Thursday, as the death toll continues to rise, with more than 1,600 deaths as of Sunday. 

Iran's mosques are now closed for prayers, but some have taken on a new purpose.

Volunteers have turned some mosques into makeshift factories, where they sew surgical masks and prepare food and resource packages for families in need.

Others prepare food and fresh juices, and deliver them to health workers and coronavirus patients.

In neighbouring Iraq, volunteers have also been busy providing food for those in need. 

Two brothers who own a restaurant in the city of Mosul have been providing free meals to staff at the nearby al-Batool hospital. 

Translation: We are the Aamer brothers, Haitham and Mumin, owners of the Grand House restaurant in Mosul. We have started supplying free meals to al-Batool hospital medical and health staff, to support them during their overnight shifts at the hospital as they monitor illnesses and suspected cases of coronavirus. We are all responsible for protecting our city from coronavirus.

At one Moroccan shop, customers were invited to take their daily need of bread for free.

Translation: Al-Naseem neighborhood, Mohammedia city. “My dear brother. Amid the tough times that we are going through, if you don’t have money, please don’t be shy and leave your family without bread. So take your daily need of bread for free. My livelihood and your livelihood are on God.”

Medical and health support 

The coronavirus pandemic has imposed unprecedented pressure on the health systems across the region. While doctors and nurses are stretched to the limit trying to treat a growing number of Covid-19 patients, volunteers have stepped in to help wherever they can.

In Lebanon, a group of medical students volunteered to look after coronavirus patients at the Rafik Hariri University Hospital in Beirut, working 12-hour shifts without pay. 

In Egypt, volunteers with expertise in the fields of medicine and public health have set up a support unit to mobilise resources and answer queries from citizens affected by the virus. 

Meanwhile at one Palestinian mosque, Friday prayers have been used as an opportunity to raise awareness about the disease.

Some are taking direct action to promote good health practice within their community. 

Algerians in the city of Skikda have put hand sanitisers in various public places for passers-by to use.

Translation: A really great and effective initiative - putting hand sanitisers in different places. I hope it circulates in other provinces. This picture is from the province of Skikda.

Elsewhere in Algeria, young volunteers have taken it upon themselves to disinfect the streets.

Translation: Brave young volunteers disinfect and sterilise public places and streets.

In Iraq's capital Baghdad, anti-government protesters have taken steps to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

Donating money and resources 

The pandemic has left governments, non-profit organisations and charities with the urgent task of providing funds to help those affected by the coronavirus.

In Lebanon, over 20 MPs said they would hand over their March salaries to those combating the virus in the country. 

Similarly in Morocco, government ministers and parliamentarians contributed a month's pay towards tackling the pandemic.

Translation: Members of parliament will contribute one month’s salary to the national mobilisation effort to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

Moroccan international footballer Abderrazak Hamdallah announced that he would cover the expenses of 1,000 Moroccan families impacted by Covid-19. 

Another footballer pledging aid was Iraqi national team player Emad Mohammed Reza, who donated his hotel in Karbala to those in need of being quarantined.

Translation: Iraqi national football team player Emad Mohammed will donate his hotel - al-Amda - in Karbala to the Department of Health, in support of its efforts to secure places for quarantining patients infected with coronavirus. Are they any people or civil institutions that carried out similar work?

In Egypt, a number of actors, singers and footballers joined a campaign to financially support families affected by the country's coronavirus shutdown.  

Helping stranded tourists 

As the number of Covid-19 cases increases, more and more borders are being shut, and, as a result, both international and domestic travel have been severely restricted. 

Tourists are especially feeling the impact of the fast-changing policies, as countries scramble to contain the spread of the virus. And some of them are experiencing a different kind of local hospitality.

In the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, locals provided food and drinks for US tourists who are placed under quarantine.

Meanwhile, Egyptians living abroad set up the hashtag #WeHaveYourBack to help travellers struggling to find flights home.  

Translation: I am in the Sultanate of Oman and I am under the order of any Egyptian or Arab brother in need of help. I am in Sohar province, and even if I’m elsewhere or far away or even in the UAE, communicate with me and I will act accordingly. Please don’t worry, loved ones. May God undo this cloud.

Translation: Look at the greatness and camaraderie of Arabs and Egyptians together in countries around the world, and this makes me happy. Because of the airline suspension in Egypt and the halt of flights to most countries in the world, this was the reaction of Arabs and Egyptians on the hashtag #WeHaveYourBack, helping people who are unable to return to their countries.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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