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Gulf states cut Iran links as coronavirus cases rise

Virus deaths rise to 15 in Iran

By AFP - Feb 25,2020 - Last updated at Feb 25,2020

Kuwaitis coming back from Iran wait at Sheikh Saad Airport in Kuwait City, on February 22, before being taken to a hospital to be tested for coronavirus (AFP photo)

DUBAI/ TEHRAN — Gulf countries announced new measures Tuesday to cut links with Iran to prevent coronavirus spreading after the confirmation of 20 new cases, all of them people returning from the Islamic republic.

Iran said Tuesday its coronavirus outbreak, the deadliest outside China, had claimed 15 lives and infected nearly 100 others — including the country's deputy health minister

The United Arab Emirates suspended passenger and cargo flights to Iran, while Bahrain closed schools and nurseries for two weeks.

This came after Gulf countries Kuwait and Bahrain announced additional cases of COVID-19.

Over the past two days, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have reported 29 cases of the novel coronavirus among people returning from pilgrimages to Iran, which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China.

The three countries have large Shiite Muslim populations who frequently travel to Iran to visit holy shrines.

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority "suspended all passenger flights and cargo to and from Iran starting today and for one week," a statement carried by the official WAM news agency said, adding that the ban could be extended.

Bahrain's health ministry said 15 more people — including six Saudi women — had tested positive for the virus after returning to the kingdom from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.

Shortly after, the Bahraini authorities said citizens were banned from travelling to Iran "until further notice" and suspended "all public and private schools as well as nurseries for two weeks", according to the official Bahrain News Agency.

The first case of coronavirus in Bahrain was of a man who had transported children to three schools after returning home from Iran on February 21 via Dubai airport.

In neighbouring Kuwait, three new cases were recorded among Kuwaiti men who had been under quarantine in the emirate after returning from Iran.

And Oman — which on Monday reported its first cases of coronavirus, two Omani women who had returned from Iran — said it had detected an additional two cases.

Muscat was making arrangements to bring back its citizens from the Islamic republic, the foreign ministry said, a day after it suspended all flights to and from Iran.

Oman also announced that it would suspend trade with Iranian goods from Wednesday.

The UAE has already announced 13 coronavirus cases, all foreigners, including an Iranian couple who had travelled from Iran.

Kuwait has cancelled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday, and also scrapped all sports events to counter the spread of the disease.

Iran has been scrambling to contain COVID-19 since Wednesday last week when it announced the first two deaths in Qom, a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.

The country’s deputy health minister put on a brave face as he admitted he too was infected.

Iraj Harirchi had coughed occasionally and wiped sweat from his brow repeatedly during a news conference in Tehran on Monday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

At the time he denied a lawmaker’s claim that 50 people had died from the virus in the Shiite shrine city of Qom, saying he would resign if the number proved to be true.

“I too have been infected with coronavirus,” Harirchi said on Tuesday in a video apparently shot by himself.The health ministry confirmed three new deaths and 34 new infections, bringing the overall tally to 15 deaths and 95 cases. President Hassan Rouhani expressed confidence the authorities were on the right track.

“The reports I have received from the health minister are promising. We are moving towards controlling the virus,” he said.

Iran, which has shut schools, universities and cultural centres until the end of the week, has yet to find the source of the country’s outbreak.

But the health minister, Saeed Namaki, has said that one person who died of coronavirus in Qom was a businessman who had made several trips to China

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