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An Iranian woman wearing a protective mask is pictured in the back seat of a taxi in Tehran on March 2, following the COVID-19 illness outbreak, which Iran says has claimed 66 lives out of 1,501 cases of infection in the Islamic republic since February. The novel coronavirus has sparked intense debate in Iran between ultra-conservative Shiite clerics and the government on how to most effectively tackle the deadliest outbreak of the disease outside China. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Iran on Monday raised its coronavirus death toll to 66 — the highest outside China — with 1,501 confirmed cases. This drove the overall number of infections in the Middle East to well over 1,600.

More than 130 cases have been reported in other countries across the Middle East, with Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt reporting new cases.

Qatar reported four new cases while Jordan on Monday reported one confirmed case of coronavirus – a Jordanian who was in Italy – and another suspected case who is being tested. Health authorities in Jordan said they will screen all those who were in contact with the patient.

Covid numbers March 2
Image Credit: Gulf News / Jay Hilotin

Egypt also reported one confirmed case of a foreigner, while Lebanon announced that the number of cases had increased to 13.

Kuwait confirmed 10 more cases of the virus on Monday, taking the toll to 56, according to the country’s health ministry.

Kuwait has the highest number of infections in the region outside Iran.

Tunisia also reported its first case on Monday.

Under-reporting of cases

There are well-founded fears that the scale of the infections and deaths may be much higher overall, as many experts believe Iran is grossly under-reporting both the number of dead and infected.

As all cases in the Middle East are linked to Iran, Gulf states have announced multiple measures to cut links with the Islamic Republic to curb the spread of the virus.

This has primarily involved transport links, and telling citizens not to visit.

Assistance to Iran

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation on Monday sent its first planeload of assistance to Iran to help fight coronavirus, dispatching six medics with tonnes of medical equipment and test kits aboard a UAE military aircraft.

“Today’s flight will carry 7.5 tonnes of medical equipment and supplies, primarily the critical items needed for infection prevention and control to support health care workers in Iran,” said Robert Blanchard from the WHO in Dubai.

As the supplies worth more than $300,000 - including gloves, surgical masks and respirators - were loaded onto the UAE military transport plane in Dubai, Blanchard warned that global supplies were running low.

“What we see now is that demand has greatly exceeded our available stocks... and we are struggling to get access to more supplies.”

The six-member medical team is made up of doctors, epidemiologists and laboratory specialists who will help the Islamic republic detect and control the virus, Blanchard said, adding it was the first WHO team to be sent to Iran since the crisis began.