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Iran’s neighbors impose travel bans as coronavirus toll rises

DAEGU, South Korea: Market workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in this southeastern city yesterday as a preventive measure after the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. – AFP

KUWAIT/TEHRAN: Iran’s confirmed death toll from the new coronavirus rose to eight yesterday, the highest outside China, sending neighboring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak. Kuwait Port Authority announced a ban on the entry of all ships from Iran, while Turkey said it would “temporarily” shut its border with the country. Pakistan also said it was closing its frontier with the Islamic republic and Afghanistan banned all ground and air travel between the two nations.

The moves come amid growing regional concerns about the spread of the virus. Lebanon on Friday confirmed its first case – a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran – and Israel yesterday quarantined at home nearly 200 school pupils who came into contact with South Korean tourists who contracted the virus.

Well-informed sources said all Kuwaitis returning from Iran have been sent home after filling questionnaires and health cards and after all tests and specimens taken proved they are free of any coronavirus infections. The sources added that returnees will be subjected to home quarantine during the virus incubation period under health ministry supervision.

“Most cases did not have to be quarantined in the first place and they only filled in the needed forms, gave specimens and were subjected to tests before they were allowed to be quarantined at their homes,” the sources explained. Meanwhile, MoH’s official spokesperson Dr Abdullah Al-Sanad announced the arrival of six more flights carrying citizens returning from Iran, noting that all passengers did not show any symptoms nor were there any suspected cases.

Iran yesterday reported three more novel coronavirus deaths among 15 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking its total number of fatalities to eight and infections to 43. Four new COVID-19 cases surfaced in Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. Authorities have ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across the country from yesterday as a “preventive measure”.

Art events, concerts and film shows have been banned for a week. “We are on the frontlines, we need help,” the head of Qom’s medical sciences university, Mohammadreza Ghadir, said on state television. “To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran,” the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan said in a statement posted on Twitter.

A provincial official in Pakistan and the nation’s Frontier Corps also confirmed the country had sealed the land border with Iran. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees live in the Islamic republic – raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.

China – the epicenter of the outbreak – reported another 97 deaths in its daily update yesterday, taking its total to 2,442, plus 648 new infections. Nearly 80,000 people have been infected worldwide, the vast majority in China. But official figures indicate the death rate is proportionately much higher in Iran than China, standing at nearly one in five of the confirmed infections.

Iran’s health minister, Saeed Namaki, said the treatment of COVID-19 cases would be free. “In every city, one hospital will be dedicated to treating coronavirus cases,” he said, adding that this number would be greater in bigger cities like the capital. Tehran’s city hall has ordered the closure of snack shops and water fountains in metro stations, officials said. Tehran municipality spokesman Gholamreza Mohammadi said buses and underground trains were being disinfected. Mohsen Hashemi, head of Tehran’s municipal council, said, “If the number of infections increases in Tehran, the whole city will be quarantined.”

Posters were also being put up across the sprawling city yesterday, asking people not to shake hands as part of a coronavirus prevention campaign. Iran’s cyberpolice meanwhile warned that anyone putting “fake clips” online related to the virus would be punished. Iran has yet to confirm the origin of the outbreak, but one official had speculated that it was brought in by Chinese workers. But academics expressed concern over the ability of Iran -currently grappling with a major economic crisis and hit by swingeing US sanctions – to contain the outbreak.

“It is unlikely that Iran will have the resources and facilities to adequately identify cases and adequately manage them if case numbers are large,” said Paul Hunter, a medical professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain. He also noted that the “situation in Iran has major implications for the Middle East,” in a context where the region is grappling with multiple conflicts. “During armed conflicts borders between countries become porous… and healthcare facilities are often targeted and destroyed.”

Other regional countries yesterday also took major precautionary measures to counter the virus potentially spreading from Iran. Jordan said it would bar entry to citizens of China, Iran and South Korea and other foreigners travelling from those countries. Jordan’s minister of state for media affairs, Amjad Adayleh, said the decision was part of “preemptive measures… following the rise in cases of coronavirus” in the three countries. He said the ban would be “temporary” and imposed on all non-Jordanians. – Agencies

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