Dubai: The coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China has infected more than 80,000 people globally. The World Health Organisation has named the illness COVID-19.
The number of those infected in the Middle East is now at least 245. All the infections across the region have been linked to Iran.
Given this scenario, on Tuesday Gulf states announced new measures to curtail links with Iran in order to prevent the coronavirus disease from spreading further in the region.
The UAE suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran for a week.
In a harrowing development, one of the key officials leading Iran’s desperate fight to stem the spread of the virus himself fell victim. Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister, was diagnosed with coronavirus. This bodes ill for Iran as it strengthens suspicions that the diseases may be getting out of control.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took a political swipe on Tuesday, claiming the United States was “deeply concerned” Iran may have covered up details about the spread of coronavirus, and he called on all nations to “tell the truth”.
Iran has officially reported about 141 cases, with 22 deaths on Thursday. However, February 24, an Iranian MP from Qom had said at least 50 had died of coronavirus in the city he represent.
Suspicions are being voiced both inside and outside Iran that the number of infections in the country may be much higher than reported.
Iran has had the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged in late 2019
The UAE has 13 cases of the new virus.
Saudi Arabia has temporarily suspended entry to the kingdom for the purpose of Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s Mosque in response to the global coronavirus outbreak.
The Saudi Press Agency has reported that entry has also been suspended for those coming from countries in which the spread of the virus is a danger, based on health authority criteria.
Saudi nationals and GCC citizens are also temporarily suspended from using national identity cards to travel to and from the kingdom. Exceptions to this suspension include Saudi nationals abroad wishing to return who exited the kingdom using the national identity card, and GCC citizens in Saudi Arabia who wish to return to their countries and had entered using the national identity card.
The national identity card stipulation is for “the concerned authorities at the entry points to verify from which countries visitors came before their arrival to the kingdom, and apply health precautions to deal with those coming from those countries,” the SPA report said.
The Ministry of Health in Kuwait announced that the number of new infections of coronavirus (Covid-19) has risen to 43 on Thursday, Feb 27.
On Wednesday the cabinet met and a decision to close schools for two weeks was made to contain the spread of the virus.
Kuwait Airways will send a plane to Milan, Italy to evacuate citizens, the company said in a statement on Wednesday on its Twitter account.
Bahrain announced the discovery of 7 new coronavirus cases late Wednesday, raising the total to 33.
All of the cases in Bahrain are of people returning from Iran.
Bahrain Health ministry called on all who visited Iran in the month of February to come forward for testing.
Flights to and from Dubai International Airport have been suspended for an additional 48 hours, Civil Aviation Affairs (CAA) in Bahrain announced on Wednesday.
Flights to and from Iraq and Lebanon have also been stopped until further notice.
The number of infections in Oman stands at 5, after the country's Healthy Ministry tweeted about two more cases.
Iraq reported the first case of coronavirus in the capital Baghdad on Thursday, bringing the total into 6 cases.
Iraq banned all public gatherings and banned travellers from Kuwait and Bahrain from entry, the health minister said on Wednesday, taking the total number of countries on the entry ban list to nine amid growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus.
Iraqi citizens are now also banned from travelling to the nine countries which are China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Bahrain, and Kuwait, the minister said in a decree seen by Reuters.
He also ordered the suspension of schools and university and the closure of cinemas, cafes, clubs, and other public gathering spots nationwide from February 27 to March 7.
Iraq has reported one infection in Najaf, and four in Kirkuk.
Iraq announced on Wednesday that tests are being conducted on more than 8,000 Iraqis who visited Iran recently.
Egypt has reported one coronavirus infection while Lebanon has three.