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No coronavirus cases in Kuwait as MoH deploys firm measures

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti passengers disembark from a plane yesterday after they were evacuated from Iran following the outbreak of the coronavirus there. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By A Saleh and Agencies

KUWAIT/TEHRAN: Minister of Health Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah has announced that his ministry is monitoring closely the latest updates about coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and has taken firm precautionary and preventive measures to counter the epidemic. In statements to KUNA, the minister asserted keenness to do all in power to maintain the country’s health security and protect it against the new disease through enforcement of a multifaceted and watertight plan.

Sheikh Basel pointed out the ministry is in contact with the World Health Organization around the clock to get updates about the global situation of the COVID-19 outbreak. He added Kuwait is also contacting other Gulf countries to follow up on recommendations, relevant precautions and practical steps to curb the spread of the virus. The ministry is cooperating at the same time with all relative national bodies to take all precautionary measures to help keep the country free from COVID-19, the minister said.

The health ministry has confirmed that there are no cases of COVID-19 in the country, denying social media reports of cases at Farwaniya or Jahra hospitals. Spokesman of the health ministry Abdullah Al-Sanad also said in a statement that “reported warnings against eating food at restaurants and linking them to a possible coronavirus outbreak are baseless”.

Iran yesterday ordered the closure of schools and universities in two cities hit by the coronavirus outbreak that has killed five people in the Islamic republic – the most outside the Far East. The move came as Iranian authorities reported one more death among 10 new cases of the virus. Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed 2,345 people in China, the epicenter of the epidemic, and 16 elsewhere in the world.

The COVID-19 outbreak in Iran first surfaced on Wednesday, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital. They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East. “We have 10 new confirmed cases of COVID-19,” Iran’s health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told state television on Saturday.

“One of the new cases has unfortunately passed away,” he added, noting that eight of them had been hospitalized in Qom and two in Tehran, without specifying where the death occurred. The latest cases take to 28 the total number of confirmed infections in Iran. Based on official figures, nearly 18 percent of those infected with the new coronavirus in Iran have died, compared with little more than three percent in China.

Sheikh Basel stressed that the ministry is committed to the highest level of transparency with regards to the recent discovery of infected cases in some neighboring countries. The ministry provides citizens and residents with all the information needed to avoid infection, he said. He pointed out that the ministry continues to apply all preventive measures to prevent the transmission of the virus to the country, the most important of which is recommending not to travel to areas where the disease has appeared, except for extreme necessity.

The ministry also takes all preventive measures adopted internationally with those coming from those areas, he noted. The minister also called on citizens and residents to follow official statements issued by the ministry. The health ministry has cautioned against travel to Qom. “Out of keenness on the safety of citizens and the residents in Kuwait, we will quarantine all arrivals from Qom until we verify that they are clear of the virus,” it said in a statement.

Interior ministry assistant undersecretary for residency affairs Maj Gen Talal Maarafi announced receiving an official letter from the health ministry demanding preventing Iranians from entering Kuwait as a precautionary measure after the discovery of coronavirus cases there. “The health ministry is committed to following all instructions coming from MoH to fight the disease,” Maarafi added, noting that MoI had received official letters banning the entry of nationals of Iran, Hong Kong and China.

Maarafi said upon receiving applications from the companies they work for or family members in Kuwait, nationals of these countries who have valid residencies in Kuwait will be granted extra three-month absence permits or until further notice once this grace period is over.

Kuwait’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation decided on Friday to suspend all flights to and from Iran after upon recommendations from the health ministry. In a press statement, the authority said all expats who visited Iran over the past two weeks will not be allowed to enter the country, even if they have valid visas. Kuwaiti citizens who visited Iran during the same period, will be put in quarantine at special health facilities, it noted. The authority also called on all citizens to postpone travel to Iran until further notice.

Kuwait Airways, the country’s flag carrier, has suspended all flights to Iran based on advice of the health ministry and DGCA. Kuwait Ports Authority (KPA) also suspended the movement of passengers to and from Iran via land ports. “The decision is a precautionary measure aiming to prevent possible spread of the illness to passengers,” KPA said in a statement.

The Iranian Embassy in Kuwait yesterday issued a press release regarding the coronavirus cases in Iran and Kuwait’s decision to stop all flights to Iran. The embassy statement stressed Kuwait took measures to prevent the arrival of the virus to Kuwait, including halting all flights between both countries.

“Since the Iranian health ministry detected the infections, specialized medical teams were deployed to Qom, where they built special prevention and containment centers,” the embassy explained, noting that all preventive and precautionary measures have been taken to quarantine suspected cases and treat them, along with imposing strict measures on entering or leaving the country. The embassy added that the Iranian health ministry’s media center continues to transparently announce the latest about the virus and the number of cases. It also urged everybody to ignore groundless social media rumors.

As a “preventive measure”, Iranian authorities ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in Qom and the nearby city of Arak from Sunday, state television reported. The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the speed at which COVID-19 has spread in Iran, as well as it being exported from the Islamic republic to other countries including Lebanon. “The concern is… that we have seen an increase in cases, a very rapid increase in a matter of a few days,” said Sylvie Briand, director of the WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness department. “We are just wondering about also the potential of more exported cases in the coming days,” she added.

Iranians have been snapping up surgical face masks in a bid to avoid catching the virus. Online retailer Digikala – Iran’s equivalent of Amazon – said on Friday that it had sold 75,000 masks within a 36-hour period. It said it was not claiming a commission on its mask sales, amid concerns that demand was causing prices to skyrocket on the black market. “Besides the high demand, we stand against the unusual price increase,” Digikala tweeted. “We stand alongside our dear suppliers and by providing fresh supplies, we hope we can meet a part of the country’s demand.”

The health ministry said tests had been carried out on 785 suspected coronavirus cases since the outbreak began. “Most of the cases are either Qom residents or have a history of coming and going from Qom to other cities,” its spokesman said. Iran has yet to confirm the origin of the outbreak, but one official speculated that it was brought in by Chinese workers. “The coronavirus epidemic has started in the country,” state news agency IRNA quoted the health ministry’s Minoo Mohraz as saying. “Since those infected in Qom had no contact with the Chinese … the source is probably Chinese workers who work in Qom and have travelled to China,” she added. – Agencies

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