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Workers disinfect a Shiite shrine to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Shahr-e-Ray, south of Tehran, March 7. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The grim cycle of ballooning coronavirus cases in the Middle East continued Sunday with Iran reporting that in the past 24 hours, 49 more people had succumbed to the disease. This brings the death toll in the country to 194 and the number of cases to 6,566. However, these are the official numbers; experts say there are reasons to believe the real toll, of both infections and deaths, is significantly higher.

Iran’s latest announcement brings the total number of cases in the Middle East to well over 6,900.

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said on Twitter on Sunday that there were four new cases of coronavirus, taking the total infections to 11 in the kingdom. It was reported that the four individuals, including three women, had interacted with another case reported previously who had been in Iran but did not disclose his travel details to the authorities, the ministry said. It is to be noted that all cases of the virus in the Middle East can be traced back, directly or indirectly, to Iran.

Kuwait said that it had discovered one new case on Sunday, bringing the number of those infected in the country to 62, according to a statement by the Kuwaiti health ministry. The number of cases in both Lebanon and Palestine stands at 22 each. In Palestine, this includes 13 Americans who were on a “trip of a lifetime” to the Holy Land, and are now being quarantined near Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, Iraq confirmed two further deaths due to the coronavirus, taking the total number to six, the state news agency reported on Sunday.The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases climbed to 54 so far, according to health officials.

Drastic measures

Governments in the region have instituted a raft of measures to contain the highly contagious outbreak.

Like other countries in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia has banned travel to Iran. Saudi citizens could face prosecution if they travel to the country. Riyadh also asked Tehran to disclose the identity of Saudi citizens who visited the country since February 1.

Officials in Egypt toured Luxor to take stock, a day after 33 more cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed aboard a Nile cruise ship. And the health ministry announced that the first death caused by the virus was recorded in the country. A German citizen died of the novel coronavirus in an Egyptian tourist resort on Sunday, the health ministry said, the first death from the epidemic reported in Africa.

"The 60-year-old German citizen showed symptoms of a fever (and) checked into Hurghada hospital on 6 March," before testing positive for the COVID-19 illness, it said in a statement.

"He died on Sunday March 8," it said.

Bahrain made the dramatic announcement that this month’s Formula One race will be run without spectators. The island kingdom has greatly curtailed air travel and urged both citizens and residents who travelled to Iran recently to present themselves for testing, failing which, they could face legal measures. Kuwait’s central bank announced on Sunday it was setting up a 10 million dinar ($32.79 million) fund to support government efforts to combat the disease.