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Agencies
February 25, 2020

Pak-Iran border stays sealed amid coronavirus threat

Top Story

A
Agencies
February 25, 2020

QUETTA/TEHRAN: Pakistan began quarantining at least 200 people near the Iranian border, officials said Monday, as fears spiralled over the growing toll from the coronavirus in the region amid allegations of a cover-up in Iran.

The border with Iran was closed for second day on Monday after which long queues of stranded vehicles were witnessed on both sides of the border.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Afghanistan also said it had detected its first infection, while Iran authorities denied allegations of an official cover-up following reports that dozens of deaths had gone unreported in the country.

In Balochistan, authorities moved fast to quarantine at least 200 people after pilgrims returning from Iran entered the country and briefly interacted with other residents.

"We have decided not to take a chance and keep all of them under observation for the next 15 days," Najeebullah Qambrani, assistant commissioner at the Taftan border crossing, told AFP, saying 250 people were being quarantined.

Balochistan Secretary of Health Mudassir Malik confirmed the quarantine but estimated that between 200 and 250 were being held. He added that around 7,000 pilgrims had returned to Pakistan from Iran this month alone.

The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries, with more than 2,500 dead in China, and is causing mounting alarm due to new pockets of outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Iran´s government vowed to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, dismissing a lawmaker´s claim the toll could be as high as 50.

The government announced Iran´s coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 -- by far the highest outside China -- as several regional countries reported their first cases on Monday, even after imposing travel restrictions and strict quarantine measures.

But Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, alleged Iran´s government was "lying" about the death toll.

"As of last night, about 50 people have died" from the COVID-19 outbreak in Qom alone, he was quoted as saying by ILNA news agency after a closed session of parliament on the crisis. The government rejected the claim.

“I ask our brother who declared this figure of 50 deaths to provide us with a list of their names,” said Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi. “If the number of deaths in Qom reaches half or a quarter of this figure, I will resign.”

Baghdad and Muscat also reported their first cases — an elderly Iranian citizen living in Iraq´s Najaf and two Omani women who had returned from the Islamic republic. Iraq has shut its border with Iran and imposed a travel ban, while Oman halted flights to and from the virus-hit country.

Kuwait and Bahrain also confirmed their first novel coronavirus cases, all of whom had come from Iran. Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry announced that one Saudi citizen, who was infected with coronavirus in Kuwait, will remain there until his full recovery.

South Korea reported 161 more coronavirus cases Monday, taking the nationwide total to 763 and making it the world´s largest total outside China. The country has seen a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases — adding more than 700 cases in less than a week — since a cluster of infections emerged from a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu. Most of the country´s cases are connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of Daegu, including 129 of Monday´s confirmations, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. Two more people had died, it added — both of them connected to a second cluster around a hospital in Cheongdo — taking the toll to seven.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that Pakistan was very concerned about the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in Iran but stood in solidarity with Tehran as it managed the outbreak in the holy city of Qom.

“We’re concerned with the outbreak of #COVID2019 in Qom/Iran causing 5 deaths. We are alert & monitoring the situation closely & taking rapid actions to keep Pakistan safe. We fully support efforts of IR Iran in managing the outbreak & we stand in solidarity with them,” he said.

Pakistan had on Sunday closed its Taftan border with Iran, stopping movement of people in light of the outbreak of coronavirus in the country. A large number of pilgrims and traders travel to Iran via the Taftan border crossing on a daily basis. Authorities sealed the border and introduced screening procedures and increased patrolling in a bid to ensure the infection does not spread to Balochistan.

The Health Ministry has established a helpline 1166 in a bid to liaison with general public for adopting precautionary measures to protect from coronavirus. Dr Zafar Mirza said the government was planning to issue a new message for public safety from the epidemic, he said. –