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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Gulf countries announced new measures on 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.
The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran after Gulf neighbours Kuwait and Bahrain announced the additional cases of Covid-19. Iran has confirmed at least 95 cases, with at least 15 dead.
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.
Emirati officials suspended all air routes with Iran.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, called Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday. In a tweet, he said that Abu Dhabi expressed "solidarity with China" in combatting the spread of the virus and pledged to support Beijing.
Bahraini officials also halted routes between Manama and Dubai and Sharjah airports - which operate connections to Iranian cities - for 48 hours from Tuesday.
The move by Bahrain came after the kingdom confirmed its first two cases on Monday.
The country's health ministry confirmed six more cases on Tuesday - two Bahrainis and four Saudis - who arrived on a flight from Iran that transited through Dubai.
Kuwait has cancelled celebrations for national holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday and also scrapped all sports events to counter the spread of the disease.
Believed to come from wildlife in China’s Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed 2,663 in the country. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the epidemic there has peaked and been declining since February 2.
Beyond mainland China, however, it has jumped to about 29 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths, and outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea of particular concern.
Iran confirmed three more deaths and 34 new infections on Tuesday, taking the country's overall death toll to 15 and infection tally to 95.
One of those infected was the head of the country’s counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi, who tested positive for the virus himself, authorities announced on Tuesday as concerns rose that the outbreak may be far wider than officially acknowledged.
"The coronavirus test for Mr Harirchi, the deputy health minister who was on the front lines combating the coronavirus, was positive," Alireza Vahabzadeh, a media adviser to the health minister, said in a tweet.
Iraj Harirchi coughed occasionally and appeared to be sweating during a press conference on Monday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei.
A prominent Iranian MP, Mahmoud Sadeghi, also said he had tested positive for the virus in a tweet.
In response to the outbreak in Iran, all 132 passengers and crew on a Turkish Airlines plane from Tehran will be quarantined for 14 days and tested for possible coronavirus infection at a hospital in Ankara, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Tuesday.
Some neighbouring countries also closed borders, while Oman's Khasab port halted import and export of goods with Iran.
"It is an uninvited and inauspicious visitor. God willing we will get through ... this virus," said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a televised speech.
Iran cancelled concerts and soccer matches nationwide, while schools and universities closed in many provinces. Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts. Authorities say US sanctions are hampering its response to the coronavirus by preventing imports of masks and medicines.
Oman, which has confirmed two cases of the virus, said on Tuesday it has quarantined 263 people who arrived into the country a day after the Ministry of Health confirmed two cases.
The Minister of Health said on state television that most of the quarantined people came over to Oman from China, South Korea and Iran. Most of them are foreign nationals.
“Anybody coming from these countries will be quarantined for two weeks, as most symptoms do not appear until two weeks after the virus is transmitted from one person to another,” Minister of Health Dr Ahmed al Saeedi said.
The country has already suspended flights travelling to the three countries as a “precaution.” The two Omanis, both women, who are affected with the virus, arrived from Iran.
Dr Al Saeedi said Oman quarantined people at home or in hospitals under the supervision of the Ministry of Health. Last week, Muscat Airport has made it mandatory for all passengers arriving in Muscat to fill forms disclosing where they travelled in recent days.
The Ministry of Health in a tweet urged citizens and residents in the country to “refrain from spreading rumours” on social media that the virus has affected many people in different areas of Oman.
“This is just a rumour and it is not true,” the ministry said.
World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday warned countries to prepare for a "potential pandemic" of new coronavirus, calling the sudden increase in cases in Iran, Italy and South Korea "deeply concerning".
In Iraq, influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called off anti-government protests on Tuesday over coronavirus fears as the country suspended flights from China and Iran.
“I have called for a million-man protest and today I forbid you from it for the sake of your health,” Mr Al Sadr said in a tweet.
“It is more important to me than anything else.”
In Dubai, doctors have been told to expand checks on potential coronavirus patients.
Clinics and hospitals should test patients with severe chest infections for Covid-19, even if they have no history of travel to an infection hot spot and no known contact with a sufferer.
Hospitals will also collect three samples from suspected patients for virus detection as opposed to one.
The advice, issued by the Dubai Health Authority in a public circular on Monday, is an update from previous guidelines, which required either of the risk factors to test patients.
The number of hotspot countries now include China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Italy.
Anyone who has travelled to these countries and has a serious chest infection, or has been in contact with a suspect in the past 28 days, must visit a hospital. Previously, it was a 14-day window.
New developments suggest coronavirus incubation could be longer than 14 days, leading to the change.
The head of a top hospital in Abu Dhabi has warned residents against paranoia, saying the UAE was prepared to protect its people against Covid-19.
Dr Rakesh Suri, chief executive of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, spoke with The National the day after the World Health Organisation chief warned countries to prepare for a "potential pandemic" of the coronavirus, calling the sudden increase in cases in Iran, Italy and South Korea "deeply concerning”.
"[Do] not be paranoid, [do] not be scared. We are prepared, we are ready, we are with you and we will get past this," was Dr Suri's message to the public.
Outside of the Middle East, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday that measures adopted to rein in Italy's coronavirus outbreak would soon produce results, and paid tribute to the country's health service.
More than 280 people have tested positive for the highly contagious illness in Italy, making it the hardest hit nation in Europe.
"I am confident we will have a containing effect in the coming days," Mr Conte told reporters, adding that the health service was "among the most rigorous and efficient in the world."
A four-star hotel in Spain's Canary Islands was locked down on Tuesday, with all guests barred from leaving until further tests were carried out after a case of coronavirus, government spokeswoman Maria Montero said on Tuesday.
"We're told we're in quarantine due to an Italian doctor testing for the coronavirus. The hotel seems to be acting normally, except that we cannot go out," guest Christopher Betts said over the phone from his room at the hotel. "There are police cars stationed at all entrances."
Austria reported its first two coronavirus cases on Tuesday as the outbreak apparently spread from neighbouring Italy, Europe's worst hit country where hundreds have been infected.
The two patients are Italians who live in the border province of Tyrol and recently travelled to Lombardy, one of the two regions at the epicentre of the Italian outbreak, Tyrol's Governor Guenther Platter was quoted as saying by state broadcaster ORF and newspaper Der Standard.
Croatia reported the first known case of the new coronavirus in the Balkans region on Tuesday after a man who recently returned from Italy was found to be infected.
Updated: February 25, 2020 07:49 PM
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