Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of allowing a protracted dispute to hinder Gulf Arab coordination over the coronavirus outbreak by denying the Qatari health minister timely access to a meeting of regional health ministers in Riyadh, reports Reuters.
Qatar's foreign ministry said in a post on its official Twitter account that Saudi Arabia had only granted an entry permit to Public Health Minister Hanan al-Kuwari after the meeting at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) General Secretariat on Wednesday had already started.
The English-language statement issued on Thursday said:
We are surprised to see that Saudi is politicizing a humanitarian sector, that requires close collaboration and coordination due to the urgency of the situation.
The secretariat and Saudi Arabia's government media office did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-GCC Egypt have imposed a political, economic and trade boycott on Qatar since mid-2017 over allegations it supports terrorism and is cozying up to regional foe Iran. Doha denies the charges and says the embargo aims to curtail its sovereignty.
The first glimmer of a thaw had appeared late last year when Saudi Arabia and Qatar began talks over the dispute, but Qatar's foreign minister said last week the discussions did not succeed and were suspended at the start of January.
Kuwait and the United States, which has strong ties with all the states involved, have tried unsuccessfully so far to mediate in the row to restore Gulf unity. Washington sees the rift as a threat to efforts to contain Iran.
A coronavirus outbreak in Iran, which has so far seen four people die, began in the Shia Muslim holy city of Qom, authorities in Iran said.
The coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, has swept across numerous countries in the world and gave rise to increased fears of its impact since it was first identified in China's Wuhan province earlier this year.
More than 2,100 people have died in China and new research suggesting the virus is more contagious than previously thought has heightened international alarm over the outbreak.
Though the respiratory virus has not had much of a prominent presence in the Middle East as a whole, countries in the region have implemented a series of preventative measures in order to avoid infections taking root. The measures include the UAE ordering citizens not to touch noses in their traditional greetings, and Turkey's manufacturing of a "fast-results" kit to test for the virus.