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Iranian medical personnel, wearing protective gear, work at the quartine ward of a hospital in Tehran. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Infections and deaths hit another high in the Middle East on Wednesday with Iran reporting 15 new deaths from coronavirus and 586 new cases of infections.

This brings the official number of total deaths to 93, and those infected to 2,922.

This also means that the Middle East region as a whole has now crossed 3,000 cases of coronavirus.

However, experts believe the real figure of both deaths and infections in Iran is even higher than this.

Such is the scale of the problem facing the country that rulers in the Islamic Republic took the completely unprecedented step of banning Friday prayers in mosques across all provincial capitals, despite the fact that this is traditionally an important weekly event for them.

Iran, South Korea and Italy account for 80 per cent of the new virus cases outside China, the global epicentre of the disease.

Every single case in the Middle East region can be traced back to Iran, with Kuwait having the second largest number of infections at 56. However, the Gulf state reported no new cases today.

More cases reported across

Lebanon has also detected two new cases of COVID-19, bringing the country's total number of infections to 15, the Health Ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday.

"One of the cases has arrived from Egypt," a source at the ministry said, adding that the two infected people are aged 14 and 54.

While Algeria reported nine new confirmed coronavirus cases also on Wednesday, bringing to 17 the total number of people tested positive for the virus, the health ministry said.

The cases include 16 from the same family in Blida province, some 30 km south of the capital Algiers, and an Italian man.

The family last month hosted a man and his daughter based in France who were tested positive for coronavirus after flying back to France.

Extraordinary step

Saudi Arabia have reported its first case of the virus on Monday and a second one on Wednesday, both are of Saudi citizina who had not disclosed recent visits to Iran.

Meanwhile, in another extraordinary step, Saudi Arabia suspended the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca for its citizens and residents in response to the coronavirus.

March 4, Covid 19
Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

This follows the recent Saudi move to stop issuing Umrah visas to foreigners and banning GCC citizens from visiting Mecca and Medina.

The Saudi Press Agency, citing an official source in the interior ministry, said: “Based on the recommendations of the committee appointed to monitor has been decided to suspend Umrah for citizens and residents in the kingdom,” adding that the decision will be reviewed regularly and reversed when the situation changes.

The number of Umrah pilgrims skyrockets during the holy month of Ramadan, which is slated to start towards the end of April.

The latest decision will be reviewed regularly and reversed when the situation changes, SPA added.

Dr. Sami Angawi, a Saudi expert on Mecca and Medina as well as the haj, said the latest restrictions were the most severe in living memory but not unprecedented in 1,400 years of Islamic history.

Deep cleaning

In the UAE on Wednesday parents and students woke up to the news that all schools and universities in the UAE would be closed for a period of four weeks starting from Sunday for the purposes of deep cleaning amid coronavirus concerns.

Nurseries who had already been given two weeks off later found out they were also part of this additional month off. Indian High School Dubai campus will be off from Thursday.

Several events were cancelled including the Abu Dhabi Book Fair and Etihad offered staff paid leave options. All exams will go ahead as usual during the four week school lay-off.

Coronavirus outbreak