Coronavirus outbreak: 18 cases and four dead in Iran, first cases in Lebanon and Israel

In Iran, the first case is reported in Qom, possibly a Chinese worker. The authorities appear to have downplayed the issue to prevent a low turnout in yesterday’s parliamentary election. Kuwait stops flights to and from Iran. Crippled by US sanctions, Iran’s health system is a source of concern.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The coronavirus has reached Iran with 18 cases and four deaths in recent days, second in terms of fatalities only to China where the outbreak began.

Analysts and experts blame the country's conservative clerical leaders, who have reportedly censored information to prevent voters from staying away from voting in yesterday’s parliamentary election.

However, government officials from more and more cities are starting to report on the spread of the virus. 

The Covid-19 virus is also spreading elsewhere in the Middle East, with the first cases confirmed in Israel and Lebanon in the past 24 hours. In United Arab Emirates, the first country in the region to be affected, 11 cases have been reported so far.

Experts are worried by the spread of the virus. WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the “window of opportunity is narrowing, so we need to act quickly before it closes completely”.

Iranian health authorities reported two deaths on Friday, following two elderly patients who died on Wednesday. A further 14 people tested positive for the virus.

Iran’s Health Ministry said that the outbreak in Iran began in the city of Qom, an often-visited religious destination. The source was likely a Chinese worker in the city; from there, the virus spread to several cities, including the capital, Tehran.

In Kuwait, civil aviation authorities decided to cancel all flights to and from Iran. A ban has been imposed on residents or people with entry permission who were in Iran for the past two weeks whilst Kuwaiti nationals arriving from Iran will be directed to isolation for two weeks.

Iran is more vulnerable because of the repercussions on its health system of sanctions and the "maximum pressure" imposed by US President Donald Trump following his decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Devaluation of Iran’s currency also means that the authorities may not have the financial means to counter the outbreak.

In Iraq the authorities closed its borders, whilst Lebanon has confirmed its first coronavirus case yesterday, a 45-year-old woman who arrived the day before on a flight from Qom. Two other suspected cases are being monitored.

Finally, in Israel, health authorities also reported the country’s first case, a woman infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan.