DUBAI: Bahrain accused Iran on Thursday of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the new coronavirus and failing to stamp the passports of Bahraini travelers, as other Gulf Arab states boosted measures to stem rising infections.
Iran, center of the flu-like disease in the Middle East, saw its caseload grow by 1,075 to more than 10,000, while its death toll reached 429.
Many of the recorded infections throughout the Gulf region are linked to travel to Iran, which hosts several important shrines and pilgrimage sites for Shiite Muslims. No Gulf Arab state has so far reported a coronavirus death.
“With this behavior, Iran has allowed the disease to travel abroad, and in my estimation this constitutes a form of biological aggression that is criminalized by international law, as it has put in danger our safety and health and that of others,” Bahraini Interior Minister General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa said in comments on Twitter.
Bahrain on Wednesday reported 77 new infections among citizens evacuated from Iran. A second government-chartered repatriation flight is scheduled for Thursday.
Saudi Arabia last week denounced Iran for granting Saudi citizens entry amid the outbreak.
Bahrain said separately on Thursday that non-compliance with isolation measures would be punishable by up to three months in jail and a fine of up to 10,000 Kuwaiti dinars ($32,000). Three individuals have already been reported to the public prosecutor, state news agency BNA reported.
A top US general said on Thursday that Iran is significantly underreporting the number of its coronavirus victims and he believed that the global pandemic is making Tehran more dangerous, a day after an attack in Iraq that killed US and British troops.
“I think it is having an effect on how they make decisions, I think it slows them down...I believe the numbers are probably significantly underreported,” US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said.
McKenzie said while he did not know for sure what impact the virus was having that “authoritarian regimes” usually react to extreme pressure by looking at external threats.
“I think it probably makes them, in terms of decision making, more dangerous rather than less dangerous,” McKenzie said during a Senate hearing.