Voices from the Arab press

The panic is only expected to grow as the number of coronavirus deaths continues to rise

MEDICAL OFFICERS spray Indonesian nationals with antiseptic as they arrive from Wuhan, China’s center of the coronavirus epidemic, before transferring them to be quarantined, in Indonesia on February 2. (photo credit: REUTERS)
MEDICAL OFFICERS spray Indonesian nationals with antiseptic as they arrive from Wuhan, China’s center of the coronavirus epidemic, before transferring them to be quarantined, in Indonesia on February 2.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Al-Etihad, UAE, February 7

In 2016, the International Health Risk Commission of the National Academy of Medical Sciences estimated that widespread disease epidemics would cost the international economy more than $6 trillion during the 21st century at an average rate of $60 billion per year. The commission recommended that the international community spend $4.5 billion annually on prevention and preparedness measures for these epidemics. Its estimates were based on the economic costs of the SARS epidemic, which swept the world for a short time in 2003 and was estimated at the time to have cost the global economy some $40 billion. 
These numbers, while huge, are expected to grow even larger in regard to the coronavirus. This is for a pretty obvious reason: the difference between the size of the Chinese economy during the time of the SARS epidemic and its size today. Seventeen years ago, during the outbreak of SARS, the size of the Chinese economy was no more than 4% of the global economy. 
By contrast, today it accounts for some 17% of global economic output. The damage caused to the Chinese economy, which ranks second in the world – with a nominal economic output of more than $14 trillion and an annual growth rate of more than 6% – will undoubtedly affect other economies around the world, particularly in OPEC countries. China is currently the world’s largest importer of oil, at 14 million barrels per day. 
A 2% decline in growth of the Chinese economy will inevitably lead to a decrease in the country’s imports of crude oil, thereby
increasing the current global glut and pushing oil prices down even more. This scenario is already beginning to unfold, as China already decreased its oil imports by 20%, an amount equivalent to the total annual oil consumption of the United Kingdom and Italy combined. Notably, this slowdown will come in addition to slowdowns in other sectors, such as tourism. No economic sector will come out unscathed by this current epidemic. 
The state of panic that has taken over the world during the past few weeks has been unprecedented. Unfortunately, the panic is only expected to grow as the number of coronavirus deaths continues to rise. Right now, there is no end in sight. 
– Akmal Abd Al-Hakim 
Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 6

Palestine always has been, and still remains, the central priority for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This is a fact backed by documents, numbers and practical positions, not fake statements and red lines echoed by hypocritical leaders like Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, who threatened to cut ties with Israel in the event that Jerusalem was declared its capital yet hasn’t lifted a finger in favor of the Palestinian people since. The kingdom’s policy is stable and does not change on this issue. 
It adhered to one single stance: a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This policy revolves around actual actions on the ground – that is, initiatives and continuous support for Palestinian unity and access to their independent state, with east Jerusalem as its capital. This stance was presented time and again by the kingdom, most notably in the courageous peace initiative it proposed at the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002. 
Only when a just and comprehensive peace is achieved will normal relations with Israel be established. In his book, the late Dr. Ghazi Abdul Rahman Al Gosaibi, a Saudi visionary and political leader, recounted that the Palestinians’ bitter experiences during the siege of Beirut taught them that the kingdom’s position was the only ray of hope in a night of darkness. All friends and allies shied away from them. Nobody came to the Palestinians’ aid. Under these circumstances, the kingdom’s relationship with the United States was the only thread of hope. 
Yasser Arafat called King Khaled on the phone and wept. However, the health of King Khalid began to deteriorate, and days after the [Israeli] invasion, he died in Taif. King Fahd stepped in and called US president Ronald Reagan several times by phone. When the Israeli invasion forces approached Beirut, the king demanded to wake the president up from his sleep. He played a big role during the negotiations that halted the Israeli forces on the outskirts of Beirut, and led to the withdrawal of the Palestinian resistance. Yasser Arafat emerged from the crisis with a deep sense of gratitude toward the kingdom, which he expressed in a long and influential telegram to King Fahd. 
This is just one of many historical examples that expresses Saudi Arabia’s clear, stable and unwavering policy on the Palestinian issue. As for those who only speak of the Palestinians to gain political capital, like Erdogan and his ilk, the continuation of Palestinian suffering only serves their goal. They should be the last to preach to us about commitment.
–Yousef Al-Qublan
Al-Watan, Egypt, February 6

Both recent and ancient history tell us that epidemics are not new. In the past two decades, the world has witnessed periods of tension, fear and panic from diseases classified by the World Health Organization as epidemics. We witnessed this with the emergence of Ebola, SARS, bird flu, swine flu and Zika – all dangerous viruses that have been shown to originate from the bodies of animals and birds, and then be transmitted to humans after genetic mutations in the virus itself. 
The risk associated with these pathogens is due to multiple factors, such as the speed of transmission from one person to another, whether by contact or through inhalation. Usually, the virus is most worrisome when no effective drug or antidote is available. As for the current outbreak of coronavirus, its symptoms begin as the usual flu, causing difficulty in diagnosing the disease. While global health authorities have called on all countries to limit their citizens’ travel to affected areas, it is inevitable for the virus to spread
across the world. 
The more interconnected our world is, the harder it becomes to control these viruses. There are several things that the Chinese should be exalted for, including their bold decision to stop public activities; close schools and universities; extend leaves for the beginning of the lunar year until February; isolate affected cities, in which approximately 56 million people live; and freeze transportation options to the areas where the virus has appeared. Within the Arab world, I’ve heard many voices claiming that coronavirus is divine punishment against the Chinese people due to their country’s unacceptable treatment of its Muslim minority. 
There is no doubt that the divine power controls everything happening in this universe, but one must always turn to research and science before pointing to divine intervention by God Almighty. The prevalent assumption among scientists and researchers, supported by practical evidence and famous precedents, is that the coronavirus is an updated strand of a previous virus that originated from bats or other wild animals consumed by humans in China. Such being the case, preventing the future occurrence of similar epidemics is only a matter of education and surveillance. 
–Hassan Abu Talib 
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.