Iran announces 3 new cases of new virus after 2 deaths

Iranian family wear protective masks to prevent contracting a coronavirus, as they stand at Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran February 20, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)
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Updated 20 February 2020

Iran announces 3 new cases of new virus after 2 deaths

  • A health ministry official said the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Iran was five, including the two elderly Iranian citizens who died on Wednesday in Qom
  • Authorities were now investigating the origin of the disease, and its possible link with religious pilgrim

TEHRAN: Iran said Thursday that three more people have been infected with the new virus that originated in central China, following an announcement the day before that two people had died of the illness caused by the virus in the Iranian city of Qom.

All schools and universities, including religious Shiite seminaries, were shut down in the holy city of Qom, according to the official IRNA news agency. Other news reports said Iran had recently evacuated 60 Iranian students from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the epidemic.

Qom, located around 140 kilometers (86 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, is a popular religious destination and a center of learning and religious studies for Shiite Muslims from inside Iran, as well as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. It is also known for its cattle farms.

An official in Iran's health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour said on his twitter account that the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Iran was five, including the two elderly Iranian citizens who died on Wednesday in Qom.

IRNA reported that the three new cases are all Iranians residing in Qom, with one of the infected having visited the city of Arak. Mohammad Mahdi Gouya, Iran’s deputy health minister, said they did not appear to have had any contact with Chinese nationals.

Iranian authorities were now investigating the origin of the disease, and its possible link with religious pilgrims from Pakistan or other countries.

Iran’s health minister, Saeed Namaki said the roughly 60 Iranian students evacuated from Wuhan had been quarantined upon their return to Iran and were discharged after 14 days without any health problems.

Iran once relied heavily on China to buy its oil and some Chinese companies have continued doing business with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions. Unlike other countries — such as Saudi Arabia, which barred its citizens and residents from traveling to China — Iran has not imposed such measures on travel there.

The new virus emerged in Wuhan, China in December. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been infected globally, with more than 2,000 deaths being reported, mostly in China.

The new virus comes from a large family of coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal. The World Health Organization recently named the illness it causes COVID-19, referring to both coronavirus and its origin late last year.

The virus has had few cases in the Middle East so far. There has have been nine cases of the virus confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, which is a popular tourist destination, and one case in Egypt. Of the nine in the UAE, seven are Chinese nationals, one is a Filipino and another an Indian national.

On Thursday, Iraq's Interior Ministry announced the suspension of tourist visas for Iranians.

Meanwhile, Egypt's national air carrier announced Thursday that it would resume flights to China as of Feb. 27 after nearly three weeks of suspension.

Egypt Air said in a statement it will operate one flight a week between Cairo and two Chinese cities, Beijing and Guangzhou. Before the suspension, the carrier used to operate a daily flight to Guangzhou and three weekly ones to Beijing and Hangzhou.


Palestinian cyclists say attacked by Israeli settlers after trail app led them astray

Updated 22 July 2020

Palestinian cyclists say attacked by Israeli settlers after trail app led them astray

  • Komoot led them east toward a rocky path near the Israeli settlement of Shilo

RAMALLAH: A group of Palestinian cyclists say they were attacked by Israelis in the occupied West Bank after a popular trail app landed them on a remote path dotted with Jewish settlements.
Avid cyclist Amer Kurdi set out on Saturday with his brother and three others on what was supposed to be an 80-km (50-mile) ride, using the cycling, hiking, and mountain biking app Komoot to chart a path north from the Palestinian village of Birzeit.
The West Bank, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, is scattered with Israeli settlements which its 3 million Palestinians mostly cannot enter, as well as checkpoints and military bases that Israel says it needs for its security.
Over an hour into their ride, Kurdi said Komoot led them east toward a rocky path near the Israeli settlement of Shilo. He said a group of Hebrew-speaking men, whom the cyclists later took to be Israeli settlers, approached and asked where they were from.
Kurdi, 30, replied that they were from the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Soon after, the men — Kurdi estimates there were five or six — started throwing stones at them, using T-shirts to hide their faces, Kurdi and his brother, Samer, said.
“The others managed to run away, but I tripped and fell,” Samer, 28, said. “When I got up, a settler was behind me, and he started beating me with a metal rod.”
Photos the cyclists took after the incident, which they reported to Israel’s police, show Samer’s legs and arms bruised and bloodied.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said they are investigating.
Palestinians complain that navigation apps fail to grasp the West Bank’s complexity.
Asked for comment, Komoot said it regretted the incident but that its service is not specifically optimized for route planning “through areas of political unrest.”
Amer Kurdi says the incident will not keep him from cycling.
“I’ll wear a camera. I’ll be more careful when using apps,” he said.
“But we won’t stop. We will stand up for our right to bike.”