Coronavirus: Iraq, Oman confirm first cases, halt flights to Iran

An Iraqi security officer wears a protective mask at a hospital in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq, on Feb 24, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

NAJAF, IRAQ/MUSCAT (AFP) - Iraq and Oman on Monday (Feb 24) confirmed their first coronavirus infections.

Iraq health officials said their first case is an Iranian national studying in the southern shrine city of Najaf, while Oman reported its first two cases and halted flights to and from Iran with immediate effect, authorities and reports said.

Iraq, which has a dilapidated healthcare system, often hosts pilgrims and religious students from Iran, where 12 people have died since a coronavirus outbreak there was first reported last week.

Iraq had blocked travel to and from the Islamic republic days before announcing that a seminary student in Najaf is the country's first confirmed case.

Two Omani women who had returned from Iran - which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China - were diagnosed with the disease and were in a stable condition, state TV reported.

The civil aviation authority said in a tweet that it was "suspending all civilian flights between the sultanate and the Islamic Republic of Iran starting today and until further notice".

Najaf's provincial health authority said the Iranian national had entered "before the ban was declared".

An AFP correspondent said the man is being quarantined in a hospital in the city.

The education directorate in Najaf said official mid-year exams, which had already started, would be cancelled until further notice to protect students.

The deaths from the Covid-19 virus in Iran were the first in the Middle East and the country's toll is now the highest outside China, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Chinese nationals have been barred from entering Iraq, despite it hosting several Chinese oil companies.

Iraq also closed the only border crossing with Kuwait at Safwan, south of Basra, late on Sunday evening, after Kuwait confirmed multiple Covid-19 cases.

Concern has spread over social media networks in Iraq, with users expressing fears that the country cannot accommodate a coronavirus outbreak.

Many hospitals in the country are poorly equipped or in disrepair and there are less than 10 doctors for every 10,000 people, the World Health Organisation says.

The novel coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries since it emerged in December and is causing mounting alarm due to new outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

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