TEHRAN: The Middle East is in the grip of coronavirus as more cases were reported on Saturday and the death toll in Iran jumped to 145 with 21 more deaths, including a politician who became the 8th official to succumb to the disease.
The virus, which was first recorded in China in December, has spread across the Middle East and beyond. Most cases in the Gulf Arab states are among people who either traveled to Iran personally, or were infected by people who had visited Iran.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday offered help to Iran as more than 1,000 new cases were reported in 24 hours in the Islamic Republic, bringing the total to 5,823. The number of people dead rose by 21, to 145.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said more than 16,000 people were in hospital under observation as possible cases.
He added that 1,669 people who were sick with the COVID-19 illness have recovered.
The capital Tehran remains the worst-hit city in the country, with 1,539 confirmed cases.
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More than 300 of the new cases reported on Saturday were in Mazandaran province, a popular tourist destination north of Tehran on the Caspian sea.“Mazandaran is at the top of the list because the necessary limitations (on domestic traveling) were not imposed,” Jahanpour added.
The WHO’s representative in Iran, Christoph Hamelmann, said the organization was ready to help, “mainly through assistance with procurement and supply of essential medicines.”
Among those reported dead from the virus on Saturday was Fatemeh Rahbar, 55, a conservative member of parliament from 2004 to 2016 who was re-elected in February.
Seven other politicians and government officials have died in Iran’s outbreak, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of the powerful Expediency Council. Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi and another member of parliament, Mahmoud Sadeghi, have also been infected.
Iran has closed schools and universities until early April, and suspended major cultural and sporting events.
Cases also rising in Gulf
The number of coronavirus cases in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has risen to 45 from 30. Kuwait recorded three new cases bringing its infection tally to 61, while Qatar reported its 12th case on Saturday.
Saudi Arabia reported two new cases on Saturday, a woman coming from Iran, via Bahrain, and another one from Iraq, via the UAE, bringing the total number of infections in the Kingdom to seven, according to a statement from the Health Ministry.
Kuwait has suspended flights to and from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Bangladesh, the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka for a week, and has banned the entry of foreigners who have been to those countries in the past two weeks.
Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV cited Bahraini health officials saying on Saturday six new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the Gulf state, bringing its total number of infections to 62.
The UAE, a major air transit center, business and tourism hub, has advised citizens and residents against traveling abroad and all schools are closed for a month from Sunday.
Events across the country have also been canceled or postponed.
Saudi Arabia has closed its land borders with the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain, with an exception for commercial trucks, and is only permitting flights from those countries to three of its airports.
Dozens of Saudis have come forward after authorities called on Friday for people who had been in Iran during the last two weeks to inform officials, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday, citing the Health Ministry.
The SPA said 95 Saudis have come forward to say they are currently in Iran, while 26 said they had returned from Iran. Another seven said they were in a third country after having visited Iran, SPA said.
For the first weekend since the outbreak began, sport was heavily affected. Saudi Arabia banned spectators from competitions, and Al-Faisaly played Al-Nasr on Saturday in an empty stadium.
A full program of Serie A football matches in Italy, which has Europe’s largest number of virus cases, will be played on Sunday behind closed doors.
In the UK, a meeting will take place on Monday between the government, sports bodies and broadcasters to discuss a ban on spectators.
(With AP & Reuters)