Iran reports 5 deaths among 28 cases of coronavirus, Lebanon its first case

An Iranian Health Ministry official said the virus “possibly came from Chinese workers who work in Qom and travelled to China.”
Sunday 23/02/2020
A medical team checks on travellers at the Shalamjah border crossing, some 15 kms southeast of the city of Basra, upon their return from Iran on February 21. (AFP)
A medical team checks on travellers at the Shalamjah border crossing, some 15 kms southeast of the city of Basra, upon their return from Iran on February 21. (AFP)

Iranian health authorities reported five deaths from the coronavirus that emerged in China and said the fatalities were among ten new confirmed cases of infection in Iran. Two were in Tehran and eight were in Qom. So far, 28 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Iran.

Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the latest detected cases were linked to Qom, where two elderly patients died February 19. Jahanpour said, among the new cases, four patients were hospitalised in Tehran and two in the northern province of Gilan.

Minoo Mohraz, an Iranian Health Ministry official, said the virus “possibly came from Chinese workers who work in Qom and travelled to China.” A Chinese company has been building a solar power plant in Qom.

In Lebanon, Health Minister Hamad Hassan reported the country’s first case of the virus February 21. He said the patient was a 45-year-old woman who arrived on a flight from Qom. He said the woman was in “good health” and the ministry was following up on cases of two other people suspected of having the illness.

The woman and two other suspected victims were quarantined at a hospital in Beirut.

Concerns over the spread of the virus prompted Iranian authorities to close schools and Shia seminaries in Qom, about 130km south of Tehran.

Reports said Iran recently evacuated 60 Iranian students from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicentre of the epidemic. The students were quarantined when they reached Iran but were discharged after 14 days without health problems.

Qom is a popular religious destination and a centre of learning and religious studies for Shia Muslims. It is also known for its cattle farms.

Iran once relied heavily on China to buy its oil and Chinese companies have continued doing business with Iran despite US sanctions. Unlike other countries -- such as Saudi Arabia, which barred its citizens and residents from travelling to China -- Iran has not imposed such measures. However, it suspended passenger flights with China for the past two weeks, allowing only cargo flights.

Iran's civil aviation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said February 20 that the “cargo flights, if necessary, are under supervision and controls imposed by the Health Ministry are carried out."

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said officials were screening travellers arriving from Iran and were refusing entry to anyone with signs of illness. He said Iranians who had travelled to Qom in the previous 14 days would be refused entry.

The virus emerged in China in December. More than 76,000 people have been infected globally, in as many as 27 countries, with more than 2,200 deaths being reported, mostly in China.

The 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 Organisation named the illness it causes Covid-19, referring to both coronavirus and its origin year.

There have been a few virus cases noted in the Middle East. Nine cases were confirmed in the United Arab Emirates and one in Egypt. Of the nine in the Emirates, seven were Chinese nationals, one a Filipino and another an Indian national.

Iraq, which has reported no cases of the virus, took measures to contain it by suspending visas for Iranian passport holders and direct flights between the two countries.

One of 11 Israelis who returned home after being quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan tested positive for the virus, the first case reported in Israel, the Health Ministry said February 21.

The Israeli cruise ship passengers, who had all initially tested negative, arrived on a chartered plane. They were met by medics in protective suits and taken to a hospital near Tel Aviv, where they were quarantined.

Four other Israelis were hospitalised in Japan after testing positive for the virus. Israel cancelled all flights to and from China and is requiring Israelis returning from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore or Thailand to be quarantined at home for two weeks.

Hassan said all those on the same flight had been contacted by health authorities. He said anyone returning from Iran would be asked to observe a 2-week home quarantine.

(News agencies)