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Kuwait health ministry workers prepare to scan expatriates living in Kuwait who returned from Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, as they arrive to be tested for coronavirus in Kuwait City on March 12. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: Coronavirus infections and deaths continued Friday to rampage in the Middle East and the Gulf, prompting authorities in some countries to cancel or curtail the weekly Friday prayers in an effort to restrict the spread of the virus.

The bulk of infections and deaths in the region were reported in Iran or linked to trips to the country.

Iran authorities increased the number of confirmed infections to more than 1,000 and deaths from the disease to a total of 514.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign advisor to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been placed under quarantine over suspicion he caught the virus. He is the latest Iranian official to have been stricken by the coronavirus in the country, an epicentre of the disease outside China. At least eight Iranian officials have reportedly died of the virus.

However, experts believe the real numbers of both deaths and infections in Iran are far higher than the announced tallies.

Most infections reported in the Gulf have been linked to travel to Iran, prompting governments across the region to impose travel restrictions.

Travel rush ahead of ban in Kuwait

Kuwait was to start Friday night halting flights with the outside world as part of stringent measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country where 80 cases have been confirmed.

In the hours ahead of enforcing travel ban, large numbers of expatriates rushed to the Kuwait airport to fly home, taking advantage of a two-week holiday the government has given to all employees as part of the precautionary steps.

Kuwait’s Awqaf Ministry, meanwhile, cancelled the congregational Friday prayers until further notice. The move comes in response to directives of health authorities and a fatwa from the country’s official Iftaa agency, the ministry said.

17 more cases in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, health authorities announced 17 more infections, raising to 62 the overall tally of the cases in the kingdom. The latest cases include 11 Egyptians who came in contact with an infected compatriot, the Saudi news agency said. Saudi authorities recently put in place a raft of precautionary measures. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia announced temporary suspension of flights to and from Europe as well as Asian and African countries, extending a travel ban due to the virus.

The suspension includes flights to the European Union, Switzerland, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia, the official Saudi news agency reported.

The latest curb raises to 39 the number of countries with which Saudi Arabia has halted flights amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19.

Saudi Arabia has already stopped Umrah pilgrimage trips and cordoned off its eastern region of Qatif where most Iran-related infections were detected.

Bahrain’s tally jumps to 171

In Bahrain, nine further cases were confirmed Friday, bringing the total to 171 infections.

Egypt’s 2nd fatality as infections rise to 67

Egypt Friday announced the death of a 60-year-old woman from the virus, becoming the second such fatality in the country where a total of 67 cases have been confirmed. The Health Ministry has registered 13 new cases.

Education authorities, meanwhile, shuttered an international school in the Nile-side Cairo quarter of Zamalek and imposed a self-isolation on its students and staff for 14 days. The closure came after a student’s father was in contact with an infected foreigner, the Education Ministry said.

In a step aimed at containing the virus, Egypt’s Islamic authorities Friday cut the maximum duration of the sermon delivered before the weekly prayer to 15 minutes.

Palestinian authorities confirmed four further virus cases, taking the total to 35. In Morocco, one more case was recorded, bringing the kingdom’s overall infections to seven.

Lebanon reported seven new cases taking the total number of infections to 77.

Although Jordan has reported no confirmed cases after the recovery of the only reported COVID-19 patient, it has announced the suspension of flights with Egpyt effective from Monday.