Iran says virus deaths reach 107 amid 3,513 confirmed cases

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — Iran will set up checkpoints to limit travel between major cities and urged citizens yesterday to reduce their use of paper money to fight a spreading outbreak of the new coronavirus, which has killed at least 107 people across the Republic.

The announcement in Iran came as Palestinian authorities said the church in Bethlehem will close indefinitely over coronavirus fears. The church was expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors and worshippers next month.

These mark the latest disruptions of life across the Mideast from the new virus, which has seen over 3,740 confirmed cases.

Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced his country’s new restrictions at a televised press conference. He added that schools and universities will remain closed through Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on March 20.

He said people should stay in their vehicles at gas stations and allow attendants to fill their gas tanks to avoid the spread of the virus.

Emirates planes parked at the Dubai International Airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. PHOTO: AP

Iran and Italy have the world’s highest death tolls outside of China.

The Palestinian Health Ministry meanwhile said it was preventing all tourists from entering the West Bank. The ministry did not specify for how long. Most tourists to the West Bank visit Bethlehem and Jericho.

The measures come after suspicions that four Palestinians caught the new coronavirus. A Palestinian official said the four tested positive for the virus but the tests were sent to Israel to verify the results. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the issue with the media. They would be the Palestinian territories’ first cases if confirmed.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said places of worship in Bethlehem will be closed for two weeks. Yesterday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) warned its citizens and foreign residents not to travel anywhere abroad amid the ongoing worldwide coronavirus outbreak, a stark warning for a country home to two major long-haul airlines.

The country’s Health and Community Protection Ministry warning comes as its capital, Abu Dhabi, sent 215 foreigners it evacuated from hard-hit Hubei in China to a quarantine set up in its Emirates Humanitarian City. They include citizens of Egypt, Sudan and Yemen.

Health officials warned that those travelling abroad could face quarantine themselves at the discretion of authorities. The UAE is home to some nine million people, with only about one million estimated to be Emirati citizens.

The UAE is home to Emirates, the government-owned airline based at Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel.

Abu Dhabi also is home to Etihad, the country’s national carrier. Both airlines have encouraged staff to take time off as international travel has dropped due to the virus.

The coronavirus outbreak disrupted Islamic worship in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia on Wednesday banned its citizens and other residents of the kingdom from performing the pilgrimage in Makkah, while Iran cancelled Friday prayers in major cities.