Yemenis resist calls for closing businesses to prevent spread of coronavirus

A restaurant worker sprays a sanitizer on a customer’s hand in Sanaa on Wednesday. (AFP)
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Updated 26 March 2020

Yemenis resist calls for closing businesses to prevent spread of coronavirus

  •  The government has not ordered a lockdown, instead asking governors to impose measures where and when deemed necessary.
  • In Hadramout, security forces banned vendors from selling on the streets of Al-Mukalla

AL-MUKALLA: Despite being bombarded by WhatsApp and text messages telling him to stay at home to avoid contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Waled Al-Baiti was not convinced this was the right time to close his clothes shop.

“I still think there is no need for closing my shop and stay at home all day,” Al-Baiti told Arab News after shaking hands with a shopper. 

 He was not wearing gloves or a mask, but said he took health guidelines seriously by keeping his distance from other people and disinfecting his hands after touching a customer.

 “I would only close my shop when a case was discovered or the state asked me to do so,” Al-Baiti said, arguing that a large number of shop owners in his city shared the same view about keeping their businesses open until the disease was detected anywhere in Yemen.

 When he goes home in the evening, Al-Baiti stays at home and keeps social distancing.

 “I apply the guidelines in the evening. I do not mind staying at home all the time but the disease has not spread yet,” he said.

 Yemen’s government and local authorities have taken precautionary measures to prevent coronavirus from sneaking into the country, such as shutting down schools and land crossings and banning large gatherings. Local radio and TV stations have helped spread awareness about the importance of complying with the rules.

 The government has not ordered a lockdown, instead asking governors to impose measures where and when deemed necessary.

 In the southeastern province of Hadramout, security forces banned vendors from selling on the streets of Al-Mukalla, but allowed malls, supermarkets and shops to open.

Hadramout Gov. Faraj Al-Bahsani banned qat-carrying vehicles from entering the province and shutting down qat markets. But residents cast doubt about the local authority’s ability to enforce the ban, with the stimulant green leaves widely consumed in Yemen, arguing that even Al-Qaeda militants had failed to ban qat when they ruled the city in 2015. 

“If anyone is addicted to qat, he should chew it alone,” Al-Bahsani said in a televised speech early this week.

Concerns

In the old neighborhoods of Al-Mukalla, Ala’a, a vegetable seller, agreed with many residents that the city should only be placed on lockdown should COVID-19 appear in the city. “I am not in favor of closing businesses now,” Ala’a, who was wearing a white mask and gloves, told Arab News.

Ala’a’s resistance to closing businesses is driven by his concerns about losing his source of income. “The government should help people with money if it wants them to stay indoors. Many people would be forced into skipping meals if their businesses were shuttered,” he said.

The streets of Al-Mukalla on Wednesday appeared as lively as usual, although heavy rains restricted the movement of people. Shops, mosques and public offices were open. Students whose schools were closed, meanwhile, played football in the streets or on the beaches.

Usama Al-Amoudi, a worker at a local NGO in Al-Mukalla, said that he fully complied with government guidelines by keeping his distance from people, and wearing gloves and masks. When he finishes his work at 1 p.m., he stays indoors until the next day.

“I stopped hanging out with friends or praying in mosques. I spend my time watching TV and using social media,” Al-Amoudi told Arab News.

Like residents of Al-Mukalla, Al-Amoudi said that long power cuts and rising temperatures had discouraged people from staying indoors.

“The electricity outage is driving people from homes. If the state wants us to stay at home, it should provide us with electricity,” he said.

Local traders said a food shortage was unlikely, as residents had not rushed to stores in large numbers. Faris bin Hilabi, a trader and the deputy of the Hadramout Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News that food stocks would feed people for another six months without panic-buying, adding that shipments of goods through Al-Mukalla seaport had not been affected by the spread of COVID-19. 

 “The food is in abundance. Officials at Al-Mukalla seaport should allow ships that carry food to unload first,” Hilabi said.


Turkey detains 11 over coronavirus house party

Updated 30 March 2020

Turkey detains 11 over coronavirus house party

  • The party was shared live on social media but received criticism for ignoring social distancing pleas
  • Elif K., who broadcast the party live on social media, said around 80 people attended the party

ISTANBUL: Turkish police have detained 11 people, including the organizers and a DJ, after a weekend coronavirus house party in Istanbul where some guests dressed up as doctors, local officials said.
The party, thrown at a villa in the Buyukcekmece district Saturday night, was shared live on social media but received criticism for ignoring social distancing pleas.
“These idiots have organized a home party somewhere in Istanbul” one Twitter user posted.
“How come we will stop the spread of the virus despite those idiots!!!”
Bars and nightclubs have been closed in Turkey by a circular issued by the interior ministry as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Police watched the social media broadcast then detained 11 people including the organizer, M.S. and M.E.C. and a DJ.
They were charged with “disobeying the regulations on infectious diseases,” the Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement late Sunday.
The authorities were working to identify other participants, it added.
In the video footage posted, some of those partying could be seen dressed up as emergency doctors with gloves and masks.
“I drank a lot of alcohol. Everyone was dancing with the music. I regret holding such a party at a time of coronavirus,” M.S. told the police in his testimony, the private news agency DHA reported.
Elif K., who broadcast the party live on social media, said around 80 people attended the party. “They were drinking and dancing. I later called a taxi and left.”
The DHA said police released seven people after questioning them, but the other four were sent to court.
Turkey has so far officially recorded 9,217 cases of the new coronavirus while 131 people have died.
Authorities have taken a series of measures to try to slow the spread of the virus, from suspending international flights to shutting schools.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Turks to stay at home and adapt themselves to “voluntary quarantine” conditions.