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Prisoners riot in Iran; Netanyahu goes into self-quarantine

TEHRAN — Prisoners in southern Iran broke cameras and caused other damage during a riot, state media reported Monday, the latest in a series of violent prison disturbances in the country, which is battling the most severe coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

Israel meanwhile announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will enter self-quarantine after an aide tested positive for the virus. His office says the 70-year-old leader has undergone a test and will remain in quarantine until he receives results or is cleared by the Health Ministry and his personal doctor. His close advisers are also isolating.

Speaking from confinement at home, Netanyahu called on Israelis to remain at home and avoid family gatherings during the upcoming spring holiday season. The Jewish holiday of Passover, the Christian holiday of Easter, and the monthlong Muslim holiday of Ramadan all fall in April. All three festivals traditionally entail large social gatherings.

Iran had temporarily released around 100,000 prisoners as part of measures taken to contain the pandemic, leaving an estimated 50,000 people behind bars, including violent offenders and so-called “security cases,” often dual nationals and others with Western ties.

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Families of detainees and Western nations say Iran is holding those prisoners for political reasons or to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations.

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Governor Enayatollah Rahimi of the southern Fars province as saying a riot broke out at Adel Abad Prison, the main lockup in the city of Shiraz. Rahimi said prisoners broke cameras and caused other damage in two sections housing violent criminals. No one was wounded and no one escaped.

In Lebanon, a criminal court ordered the release of 46 prisoners who were being held without trial to protect them from getting infected, the state-run National News Agency reported. Lebanon has reported 446 cases and 11 deaths from the virus.

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In war-torn Yemen, more than 240 prisoners were released in government-held areas as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, according to provincial officials.

Elsewhere in the region on Monday, Jordan began releasing thousands of travelers who were quarantined for the last two weeks at five-star hotels on the Dead Sea in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Egypt, the government extended the closure of the country’s famed museums and archaeological sites, including the Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza, until at least April 15.

Associated Press

Time to ‘revenge shop’ as China virus hot spot reopens

WUHAN, China — The city at the center of China’s virus outbreak was reopening for business Monday after authorities lifted more of the controls that locked downs tens of millions of people for two months. “I want to revenge shop,” one excited customer declared as she traversed one of Wuhan’s major shopping streets,

Customers were still scarce, though, as those who did venture out were greeted by shop employees who wore masks and carried signs that told them to “keep a safe distance.”

The city in Hubei province is the last major population center still under travel controls. Residents were allowed to go to other parts of Hubei but could not leave the province. Restrictions on other Hubei residents were lifted March 23. Curbs on Wuhan end April 8.

Wuhan became the center of the most intensive anti-disease controls ever imposed after the virus emerged in December.

The ruling party suppressed information about the outbreak and reprimanded doctors in Wuhan who tried to warn the public. As late as Jan. 19, city leaders went ahead with a dinner for 40,000 households to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

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Associated Press

As Moscow quarantines, Putin has been notably silent

MOSCOW — Muscovites got a four-hour notice Sunday night on a sweeping quarantine that will keep them inside their homes unless they are walking a pet, taking out the trash, or visiting the nearest grocery store. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s decree did not take effect until midnight, but the confusion was immediate.

Within an hour, prominent Russian lawmaker Andrei Klishas questioned the legality of Sobyanin’s order, arguing that only federal authorities could impose such restrictions. While some state media said there was not a curfew for the Moscow region, video of police announcing one, 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., appeared on social media.

It capped a week of mixed messaging from Russian authorities on the coronavirus pandemic, as President Vladimir Putin has delegated enacting tough measures to others. He has been silent as Moscow has declared a stricter quarantine than most European cities, prompting one blogger for the popular Echo of Moscow independent radio station to wonder whether Sobyanin is now making the key decisions for Russia.

For a country spanning two continents ravaged by the pandemic, Russia has a relatively low number of confirmed cases: 1,836. But the number of new cases per day has been steadily increasing, with Monday’s 302 new diagnoses setting another high.

Washington Post

Submariners are likely unaware of pandemic

LE PECQ, France — Of a world in coronavirus turmoil, they may know little or nothing.

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Submariners stealthily cruising the ocean deeps, purposefully shielded from worldly worries to encourage undivided focus on their top-secret missions of nuclear deterrence, may be among the last pockets of people anywhere who are still blissfully unaware of how the pandemic is turning life upside down.

Mariners aboard ballistic submarines are habitually spared bad news while underwater to avoid undermining their morale, say current and former officers who served aboard France’s nuclear-armed subs. So any crews that left port before the virus spread around the globe are likely being kept in the dark about the extent of the rapidly unfurling crisis by their commanders until their return, they say.

‘‘They won’t know,” said retired Admiral Dominique Salles, who commanded the French ballistic submarine squadron from 2003-2006. “The boys need to be completely available for their mission.”

Salles said he believes submariners will likely only be told of the pandemic as they head back to port, in the final two days of their mission.

The French navy won’t divulge what has or hasn’t been said to submarine crews. Nor will it say whether any of the four French ballistic submarines, laden with 16 missiles that each can carry six nuclear warheads, left harbor before France instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 17.

French submarine missions last 60 to 70 days, with about 110 crew members aboard. So a crew that left at the end of February wouldn’t be expected back before the end of April. In that case, they will return to a world changed by the pandemic. On March 1, France had just 130 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths. In under a month, those numbers have surged past 2,600 dead and more than 40,000 sickened.

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Associated Press