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First Coronavirus Case Confirmed in Lebanon, Linked to Iranian City of Qom

People wearing face masks ride on a motorbike outside Rafik Hariri hospital, where Lebanon's first coronavirus case is being quarantined, in Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 21, 2020.

Lebanon confirmed its first coronavirus case Friday, a 45-year-old woman who had arrived from Iran and was being quarantined in a hospital.

"We confirmed the first case today," Lebanese health minister Hassan Hamad told a news conference, adding that two other suspected cases are being investigated.

The woman arrived Thursday on a flight from the city of Qom in Iran. The woman and two other suspected victims were quarantined at the Rafik Hariri government hospital in Beirut.

Meanwhile, Iranian health authorities Friday reported two more deaths from the new coronavirus.

Lebanese Health Minister Hassan Hamad speaks during a news conference, in Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 21, 2020.
Lebanese Health Minister Hassan Hamad speaks during a news conference, in Beirut, Lebanon, Feb. 21, 2020.

The spokesman of Iran's health ministry, Kianoush Jahanpour said the newly detected cases are all linked with Qom, where the first two elderly patients died Wednesday. So far, 18 cases have been confirmed in Iran, including the four who died.

Another official with Iran's health ministry, Minoo Mohraz, said the virus "possibly came from Chinese workers who work in Qom and traveled to China." A Chinese company has been building a solar power plant in Qom.

Qom is a popular religious destination and a center of learning and religious studies for Shi'ite Muslims from inside Iran, as well as Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.

Cases elsewhere

In neighboring Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said officials have started to screen travelers arriving from Iran at border gates and are refusing entry to anyone with signs of illness. He also said Iranians who have traveled to Qom in the past 14 days will be refused entry.

There have been few virus cases in the Middle East. Nine cases have been confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, and one case in Egypt.

Iran's neighbor Iraq, which hasn't reported any cases yet, suspended visas on arrival for Iranian passport holders and stopped direct flights between the two countries.

Also Friday, one of 11 Israelis who were flown home after being quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan has tested positive for the virus. Israel's Health Ministry says this is the first case to be reported inside Israel. The Israeli cruise ship passengers all had initially tested negative after arriving on a charter plane overnight.

Another four Israelis were hospitalized in Japan after testing positive for the virus.