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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Kuwait has announced that it will be bringing back 750 citizens from Iran after two more people died from coronavirus in the country. The first flight landed in Kuwait on Saturday morning carrying 130 people. Minister of Health Dr Basel Al Sabah verified that all were free of the virus and "in good health and high spirits."
In Lebanon, there has been a public outcry over the failure to halt flights from Iran after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who travelled from the Iranian city of Qom.
“We have made contacts with Iranian authorities who assured that all necessary measures will be taken before a new flight arrives from Iran Monday. The same measures will be taken for all flights arriving from coronavirus infected countries,” the country's health minister Hassan Hamad said, according to local news outlet Naharnet.
In a news conference on Saturday, he said 11 people returning from Iran who were suspected of carrying the virus tested negative, including two who arrived on the flight from Qom. Lebanese have used social media to express their outrage after the minister confirmed that the next flight from Iran will be allowed to land.
Iran on Saturday ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres after a coronavirus outbreak that has killed six people in the Islamic republic — the most outside the Far East.
The governor of Markazi province told the official IRNA news agency that tests of a patient who recently died in the central city of Arak were positive for the virus.
Ali Aghazadeh said the person was also suffering from a heart problem.
Earlier on Saturday, health authorities reported a fifth death from the coronavirus and said the fatality was among 10 new confirmed cases in Iran. It was not immediately clear whether the sixth fatality was among those 10.
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed 2,345 people in China, the epicentre of the epidemic, and 17 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 virus in the Middle East. Iran reported two more deaths on Friday.
"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 hospitalised 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 per cent of those infected with the new coronavirus in Iran have died, compared with little more than three per cent in China.
As a "preventive measure", authorities ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday, state television reported.
They include Qom, Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan, Kurdistan and the capital, Tehran.
The government also announced that "all art and cinema events in halls across the country have been cancelled until the end of the week" in order to stop infections.
"We are on the front lines, we need help," head of Qom's medical sciences university said on state TV.
"If I can say one thing, it is help Qom," said Mohammadreza Ghadir.
The World Health Organisation 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.
The Iranian outbreak emerged in the lead-up to a parliamentary election on Friday.
State media said the deadly virus had failed to dampen "the revolutionary zeal of Qom's people" to turn out to vote.
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 36 hours.
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.
"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.
But the official did not provide any evidence to support her claim, and it has not been reported elsewhere in Iranian media.
All of those who lost their lives are believed to be Iranian citizens.
Qom is a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.
Following the announcement of the first two deaths, neighbouring Iraq on Thursday clamped down on travel to and from the Islamic republic.
The Iraqi health ministry announced that people in Iran were barred from entering the country "until further notice".
Kuwait's national carrier Kuwait Airways meanwhile announced it would suspend all flights to Iran.
Updated: February 23, 2020 10:22 AM
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