Iran’s neighbours impose travel bans as virus toll rises

ISTANBUL: Iran’s confirmed death toll from the new coronavirus rose to eight on Sunday, the highest outside China, sending neighbouring countries scrambling to contain the outbreak.
Turkey said it would “temporarily” shut its border with Iran, while Pakistan also said it was closing its frontier with the Islamic republic and Afghanistan banned all ground and air travel between the two nations.
The moves come amid growing regional concerns about the spread of the virus.
Lebanon on Friday confirmed its first case — a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran — and Israel on Sunday quarantined at home nearly 200 school pupils who came into contact with South Korean tourists who contracted the virus.
Iran on Sunday reported three more novel coronavirus deaths among 15 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking its total number of fatalities to eight and infections to 43.
Four new COVID-19 cases surfaced in Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
Authorities have ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday as a “preventive measure”.
Art events, concerts and film shows have been banned for a week.
“We are on the frontlines, we need help,” the head of Qom’s medical sciences university, Mohammadreza Ghadir, said on state television.
Iran’s health minister, Saeed Namaki, said the treatment of COVID-19 cases would be free.
“In every city, one hospital will be dedicated to treating coronavirus cases,” he said, adding that this number would be greater in bigger cities.
But academics expressed concern over the ability of Iran — currently grappling with a major economic crisis and hit by swingeing US sanctions — to contain the outbreak.
“It is unlikely that Iran will have the resources and facilities to adequately identify cases and adequately manage them if case numbers are large,” said Paul Hunter, a medical professor at the University of East Anglia in Britain.
9 KILLED IN EARTHQUAKE: Nine people died and hundreds of buildings collapsed in southeastern Turkey on Sunday after a magnitude-5.7 earthquake struck near the border with Iran, injuring dozens in villages and towns in both countries, government officials said.
Three of those killed were children and 37 Turks were injured, including nine critically, Turkey’s health ministry said. The shallow tremor caused more than 1,000 buildings to collapse in Turkey, prompting a brief rescue effort.
The quake damaged buildings some 90 km to the west in the Turkish city of Van, and to the east in dozens of villages in Iran, where state TV said 75 people were injured including six in hospital, though there were no fatalities. — Reuters