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Medics treat a patient infected with the new coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran. Iran's healthcare system is being overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak in the country. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: There was a dramatic rise in the number of deaths and new cases in Iran, which took the total number of cases across the Middle East to more than 14,000.

Iran also reported 113 new deaths from the virus, bringing its death toll to 724. This also took the number of cases in the Islamic Republic to almost 14,000.

14,000

number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Iran

The pandemic threatens to overwhelm the medical facilities in some countries in the region. And many experts find even this figure difficult to believe.

The actual number of both deaths and infections is said to be significantly higher than what the government is letting out.

Such is the scale of the problem facing Iran that Ali Reza Zali, who is leading the campaign against the outbreak, was quoted as saying that "if the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity".

Iran is believed to have around 110,000 hospital beds, including 30,000 in the capital, Tehran.

Authorities have pledged to set up mobile clinics as needed.

Zali also said many of those who have died from illness caused by the coronavirus were otherwise healthy, a rare admission by local authorities that the virus does not only prey on the sick and elderly.

Dalia Samhouri, a senior regional official with the World Health Organization, said both Iran and Egypt, two of the most populous countries in the Middle East, were likely underreporting cases because of the nature of the virus, which can be spread by individuals who show no visible symptoms. Egypt has reported 110 cases, including two fatalities.

“We can easily say that the current figures are an underestimation of the actual figures,” she said.

Al Aqsa mosque closed

Meanwhile, in a highly symbolic move, Al Aqsa mosque in occupied Jerusalem, the third holiest in Islam, was closed down indefinitely.

But prayers will continue to be held on the sprawling esplanade outside.

Similar measures have been taken at the nearby Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, where outdoor prayers continue but only 10 people at a time are permitted in enclosed areas, in keeping with measures taken by the Israeli occupation regime.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial on serious corruption charges, which was supposed to begin this week, was postponed for two months due to restrictions on public gatherings.

Saudi visa extension

Saudi Arabia’s state carrier, Saudia, announced Sunday it would halt all international flights for two weeks while continuing to fly domestic routes.

Also, the Saudis announced that all visitors currently inside the country, whose visit visas are about to expire, will now be able to extend their stay for up to 180 days, after paying a fee.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has also decided to close shopping malls, supermarkets and pharmacies, and ban the serving of food in restaurants and cafes. You can however order food; delivery services are allowed.

These measures are being taken in a bid to stem the spread of COVID 19.

Iraq suspends work

Iraq on Sunday announced the suspension of work in Baghdad as precautionary measures to contain the spread of deadly coronavirus, according to Al Arabiya.

Iraq has also said it will close Najaf, where only local residents will be allowed in. A three-day curfew was also imposed in Karbala, Dhi Qar governorate and Saladin governorate.

The move comes as health authorities are striving to contain the spread of coronavirus, which killed 10 people and infected 110 citizens so far. Most of the cases reported in Iraq are either people who have traveled to Iran or have contracted the disease from Iranians.

To make things worse, an Iraqi citizen who claimed he didn’t know he has the virus hosted a lunch banquet for 80 people as soon as he returned from Iran, according to Al Hurra, who cited the Director General of Baghdad Health, Al-Karkh, Jasb Latif Al Hijami.

“Where will we find these families and how will they be quarantined?” Al Hijami wondered, calling on citizens returning from abroad to stay home.

Jordan, Egypt

This came as Jordan confirmed six new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, including an American tourist coming from Egypt, the minister of health said.

Algeria

In Algeria, health authorities reported eight new cases, taking the total number of infected persons to 45.