CAIRO - Iran's health ministry says 60 people have been infected by the coronavirus and that 12 people have died, so far, with the holy city of Qom being the hardest hit part of the country. Panic over the virus appears to be spreading to Iran's neighbors, as well, with cases being reported in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon.
Iran's health ministry spokesman told journalists Monday that authorities are taking strict measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. He also defended a decision not to place the Shi'ite holy city of Qom under quarantine, saying that doing so would have scared people and caused many to flee to other parts of the country, further spreading the virus.
The spokesman went on to say that 60 people have been infected by the coronavirus across Iran, with 12 people succumbing to it. He said claims on social media of higher casualty figures were false.
Amateur video on social media showed workers spraying subway cars in the Tehran metro to prevent the spread of the virus. Other video showed workers spraying Iranian passenger jets and city buses as well. State television reported that President Hassan Rouhani would preside over a crisis committee to oversee handling of the virus.
In neighboring Iraq, some panic was reported after an Iranian student in the holy city of Najaf came down with the virus. Iraqi officials told Arab media that a handful of suspected caseswere taken to Baghdad's Euphrates Hospital.
Iraqi media showed protesters trying to block the Mahran border crossing from Iran. Several protesters criticized the country's interior minister for allegedly refusing to stop Iranians from entering the country. VOA could not independently confirm the claim.
Amateur video broadcast by Arab media showed visitors from Iran being held in quarantine at a hotel in the city of Kut, near the Mahran border crossing. One man could be heard saying that armed men were posted outside the hotel.
Arab media say three coronavirus cases have been reported in Kuwait, which is refusing to allow ships from either Iraq or Iran to dock. Another case was reported in nearby Bahrain. Both Qatar and Bahrain say they are monitoring arriving passengers from countries hardest hit by the virus.
Here in Egypt, state media report that one patient who came down with the virus in the coastal town of Marsa Matrouah "has now recovered." In Lebanon, a passenger arriving from Iran came down with the virus several days ago. Meanwhile, officials at Beirut Airport reportedly forced passengers on a plane arriving from Tehran Monday to disembark far away from the terminal.