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Arab Health Officials Scramble to Prevent Spread of Coronavirus

A man wears a mask as he visits the UAE ministry stand during the Arab Health Exhibition in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 29, 2020.

As the first cases of the deadly coronavirus are registered in the Arab world, health officials in many Arab countries are scrambling to prevent the disease from spreading widely.

Algerian TV showed health officials screening passengers for possible symptoms of the coronavirus on flights arriving from China or from the Gulf, where many passengers from Asia transit.

Dr. Hahad Amiroush, the head of border health control at Houari Boumediene Airport in Algiers, told journalists that high-risk passengers who show signs of a high fever, coughing or respiratory difficulties, will be taken to a hospital for testing if they are suspected of having the virus.

In Abu Dhabi, a Chinese family has reportedly come down with Coronavirus, while media reports say an Indian nurse in Saudi Arabia who contracted the virus was flown home for treatment.

Here in Egypt, health ministry spokesman Khaled al Mugahed denies that there have been any confirmed cases of the Coronavirus, but insists that strict measures are being taken to avoid its possible propagation.

He says that Egypt is monitoring all land, sea and air entries into the country and that any passenger suspected of having the virus will be sent to a competent health facility. He insists, however, that there have been no reported cases of the virus in Egypt, so far.

Dr. Mustapha Jaweesh, a former Egyptian health ministry official responsible for virus outbreaks, told Arab media that Egypt was monitoring Chinese restaurants for possible signs of the disease, but he argues that the best measure to avoid the disease is to follow simple health precautions.

He says that people should wash their hands with soap for at least half a minute and avoid crowded areas like public transport.

Some experts, like Dr. Faris al Bakri at Jordan University Hospital tell Arab media that they believe the coronavirus, as well as related strains, "often move from animals to people, spreading from camels to humans in Saudi Arabia, or birds and pigs to humans in Egypt."

An outbreak of bird flu in Egypt in 2005 resulted in a massive cull of poultry and turkeys, while an outbreak of swine flu in 2009 resulted in a similar widespread cull of pigs. Human casualties, however, were limited.

Lebanon's health minister, Hamad Hassan, insists that the "[coronavirus] has not yet reached Lebanon," and Beirut's Rafik al Hariri International Airport has told airlines that fly passengers from Thailand or China to ask them to provide phone numbers and other contact information.

Several thousand people are thought to have contracted coronavirus in China and around 100 have died of the disease. Experts in Britain, however, believe that the number of cases of the virus could be five to 10 times the figures actually reported.