Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Coronavirus: Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Afghanistan confirm first cases

Health ministries in Bahrain, Kuwait and Afghanistan have confirmed the first cases of coronavirus.

Health ministries in Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan have confirmed their first cases of the coronavirus. On Monday, Iraq became the latest country to announce a new case with reports that an Iranian national there had contracted the disease.

A Bahraini national showed symptoms after arriving on a flight from Iran and was transferred to the Ebrahim Khalil Kanoo Medical Centre for immediate testing, treatment and isolation, the country's Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Afghanistan also confirmed its first case of coronavirus in western Herat province.

"The ministry calls upon all citizens and residents who are experiencing symptoms of COVID19, including a fever, coughing and difficulty breathing, or those who have travelled to one of the countries infected with the disease or have interacted with a person travelling from any of those locations, or interacted with an infected patient, to isolate themselves," the ministry said.

The Omani health ministry said two women diagnosed with the disease had recently visited Iran.

Kuwait has reported that three people, who had travelled to Iran, have tested positive for coronavirus. According to the country's state news agency, the cases, which include a Saudi national, were among 700 people evacuated from the Iranian city of Mashad last week.

Travel bans and border closures

On Monday, the UAE announced that Emiratis were banned from travelling to Iran and Thailand. Oman said it is halting flights to Iran.

Iraq said it had closed its Safwan border crossing with Kuwait amid fears over the spread of the virus.

Last week, Kuwait began bringing back 750 nationals from Iran, where the death toll from coronavirus rose on Monday to twelve - the highest outside China - with 47 now infected, according to health minister Saeed Namaki.

The outbreak in Iran centered mostly on the city of Qom but spread rapidly in recent days to at least four other cities. Iranians went to the polls on Friday with many wearing masks to ward off infection and authorities have begun daily sanitisation of the metro in Iran's capital, Tehran.

Turkey and Pakistan are among seven countries that have now closed their borders with Iran over the coronavirus outbreak. Parts of the country are on lockdown, with schools, universities, cinemas and theatres closed in 13 Iranian provinces.

Lebanon announced its first case of coronavirus after a woman tested positive following a flight from Qom on Thursday. Lebanese expressed their anger on social media channels over the country's refusal to cancel flights from Iran.

More than 79,000 people have contracted coronavirus since the outbreak started in China's Wuhan province on December 31. More than 2,400 people have died of the virus, which Chinese leader Xi Jinping described on Sunday as the "largest public health emergency" in China's history.

Most of the cases are in China but concerns of a global pandemic are rising as fresh reports emerge of people testing positive in Europe and the Middle East.

Oil dropped to its lowest level in two weeks during early trading as stock markets around the world witnessed sharp falls, weighed down by concerns about the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

Markets across the world also slid as the epidemic risked turning into a pandemic. In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened 2.8 per cent lower, the S&P500 was down 2.6 per cent and the Nasdaq composite index traded 3 per cent lower shortly after the market opened.

The World Health Organisation chief on Monday warned countries to prepare for a "potential pandemic" of new coronavirus, calling the sudden increase in cases in Iran, Italy and South Korea "deeply concerning".

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said, however, that a WHO joint mission to China that concluded on Monday found that the virus there "peaked" between January 23 and February 2 "and has been declining steadily since then".

"This virus can be contained. Indeed there are many countries that have done exactly that," he said, crediting the measures taken by China to lock down several cities for helping to prevent an even bigger spread.

South Korea has raised its alert for infectious diseases to the highest level after the number of coronavirus cases in the country soared to 833 on Monday, with officials ordered to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to fight the outbreak.

Under the highest alert level, authorities can order the temporary closure of schools and reduce the operation of public transportation and flights to and from South Korea. The country's education minister, Yoo Eun-hae, said later on Sunday that the new school year for kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools in South Korea has been put off by one week and will start on March 9.

Mr Moon said the outbreak “has reached a crucial watershed,” and that the next few days will be critical. “We shouldn’t be bound by regulations and hesitate to take unprecedented, powerful measures,” he said.

In Italy, celebrations for the Venice carnival have been cut short as authorities try to contain the spread of infection following the first two cases in the historic canal city. There are now 152 cases in the country, the largest outside Asia, with three deaths from the disease.

The White House is readying an urgent budget request to address the deadly coronavirus outbreak whose rapid spread is spooking financial markets and restricting international travel.

The request is still being developed but is likely to come this week, a senior administration official confirmed Monday. The Department of Health and Human Services has already tapped into an emergency infectious disease rapid response fund and is seeking to transfer more than $130 million from other HHS accounts to combat the virus but is pressing for more.

Among the needs is funding to reimburse the Pentagon, which is housing evacuees from China — who are required to undergo 14-day quarantines — at several military bases in California.

Updated: February 24, 2020 09:27 PM

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