Coronavirus pandemic: Qatar rolls out harsh penalty for not wearing masks

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The Gulf nation of Qatar is serious about enforcing face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, with violators facing up to three years in prison.

The rules are the toughest in the world and come as the Muslim nation battles one of the highest infection rates in the world. The nation of 2.8 million people has just over 32,000 infections.

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In addition to prison time, violators face a fine of 200,000 riyals, or about $40,000. According to The Sun, police have set up checkpoints to warn drivers of the new rules.

So far, just 15 coronavirus deaths have been recorded in Qatar.

Public health experts say most of Qatar's infections are in areas where migrant workers live in crowded conditions as they help the nation prepare to host the 2022 World Cup. Authorities are also warning citizens that family gatherings for Ramadan likely "led to a significant increase in the number of infections".

On Monday, Human Rights Watch urged Qatari prison officials to protect prisoners and prison staff amid an apparent coronavirus outbreak in the Doha central prison.

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The agency said authorities should reduce inmate populations to allow for social distancing and provide masks, sanitizers, and gloves.

“Qatari authorities should move quickly to avoid wider spread of coronavirus that risks infecting prisoners, prison staff, and Doha residents,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Qatar can start by releasing vulnerable prisoners such as older people and those held for low-level or nonviolent offenses and by ensuring that the remaining prisoners have adequate access to medical care.”