Iran reported its biggest jump in deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, while another 147 died, bringing the total to 1,135.
The peak of nearly 15% of deaths – out of a total of 17,361 confirmed cases in Iran – marks the largest increase in 24-hour deaths since Iranian authorities first recognized virus infections in mid-February .
Even as the number of cases increased, the food markets were still crowded with customers and the highways were crowded as families traveled before the Persian New Year, Nowruz, Friday.
Deputy Minister of Health Alireza Raisi urged the public to avoid travel and crowds, telling the Iranians that the coming days represented two “golden weeks” to try to curb the virus.
He criticized people for ignoring the warnings to stay at home. “It is not a good situation at all,” he said.
President Hassan Rouhani has defended his government’s response to the epidemic amid widespread criticism that Iran has acted too slowly and may have even covered the first cases. He told his cabinet that the government was “simple,” saying that he announced the epidemic as soon as he learned of it on February 19.
“We have spoken to people in an honest manner. We had no delays, ”he added.
For weeks, officials implored clerics to close overcrowded Shiite shrines to stop the spread of the virus. The government could only close them this week.
“It was difficult, of course, to close mosques and holy places, but we did. It was a religious duty to do so, ”said Rouhani.
Restrictions in the Middle East
Iran also said it would close mosques for Friday communal prayers for the third consecutive week. Other Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have also done so.
The virus, which causes COVID-19, has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000. For most people, it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially the elderly and people with existing health problems, this can cause more serious illnesses, including pneumonia. The vast majority are recovering.
World Health Organization Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region Ahmed Al-Mandhari said numerous travel restrictions imposed by various countries are hampering efforts to fight the virus by delaying both deployment of health experts and the delivery of emergency medical supplies.
Millions of people in the Middle East were subject to almost total curfews, quarantines or blockades.
In Egypt, the Hilton Green Plaza hotel in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria was quarantined after a British guest showed symptoms. A hotel employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not allowed to speak to the press, declined to say how many people were in the hotel but added that the ministry of Health has given foreign customers the opportunity to leave to return to their country of origin before a suspension of all flights takes effect on Thursday.
Egypt, which has reported 210 cases and six deaths from the virus, also quarantined more than 300 families in a village in the Nile Delta and imposed a lockdown in the seaside resort of Hurghada in the Red Sea. All workers at hotels and tourist sites in Sharm el-Sheikh, Luxor and Aswan have been ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.
In the capital of Cairo, cafes and restaurants have been closed in the city of more than 20 million people, security forces in plain clothes telling people to go home.
“I am financially ruined. How can I make a living now? “said Mohammed Gamal, a worker at a cafe that has been closed.
In Israel, which has reported 427 infections, authorities have put the country in a near-closure mode, ordering the quarantine at home of tens of thousands of people, transforming unused hotels into hospitals and setting up screening centers driving. More controversially, the government instructed the dark internal security service of the Shin Bet to deploy telephone surveillance technology to follow the movements of infected people.
The Israeli Population and Immigration Authority has declared that it prohibits entry to all foreign nationals. It also closed its land borders to the exits of Israeli nationals.
Pakistan confirms first death
Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced that all movement out of Bethlehem and two neighboring cities with cases of coronavirus would be stopped and urged residents of Bethlehem to stay at home starting Wednesday evening. Palestinians have also been ordered not to work in the Israeli settlements or to enter Israel from Sunday.
In Iraq, a week-long curfew has started in Baghdad, allowing pedestrians on the street to buy only the necessary food and medicine. Armed police patrolled the town and set up roadblocks.
Some Iraqis have flouted the curfew by reopening shops and taking a family walk. Some grocery and bakery stands remained open, but many appeared to respect the curfew. Iraq has killed 11 people out of 154 confirmed cases.
Pharmacist Shadha Jawad, 65, said her clients don’t know the consequences of the virus. “I don’t think anyone will stay inside for seven days,” she said.
A 12-hour curfew has also been announced in eastern Libya, which is governed by the self-proclaimed Libyan Arab Armed Forces and commanded by General Khalifa Hifter. They also closed the borders with neighboring Sudan, Chad, Niger and Algeria. No virus has been reported in Libya, where the health system has been decimated by the conflict.
Pakistan has confirmed its first death from coronavirus: a 50-year-old man returned from Saudi Arabia. The man was tested positive at a Peshawar hospital on Tuesday, government spokesman Ajmal Wazir said.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who visited China this week with President Arif Alvi, said he was quarantining himself in a protective manner. Pakistan has nearly 300 cases of the virus, many of which have returned from Iran.
In Saudi Arabia, members of the public and private sectors were invited to work from home for two weeks. Only essential personnel for supply chain services, food delivery, grocery stores, pharmacies, health care and security do not work from home
The leaders of the 20 largest economies in the world could hold a special meeting next week to advance a coordinated response to the pandemic. Saudi Arabia, who currently heads the G20 presidency, said it was contacting countries to convene the virtual meeting.
With global equity markets remaining volatile, the Securities and Commodities Authority of the United Arab Emirates has stated that local exchanges could only fluctuate by 5%, rather than 10%, before trading is halted.