Coronavirus fears ground flights to Iran

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - A growing number of Arab countries have cancelled flights to Iran after dozens of people reportedly died due to contracting the coronavirus, as a number of new cases were reported in the Gulf.

Iran's confirmed death toll from the new coronavirus (known as COVID-19) rose to 12, though one Iranian minister claimed that as many as 50 people have died in one city alone due to the virus - a claim Iranian authorities were quick to deny.

Iran has the highest death toll due to the virus outside of China, thought to be the country of origin, and as a result a number of its neighbours are sealing their borders with the country shut.

After Oman reported its first coronavirus cases – two women who are thought to be in stable condition – the country reacted by swiftly grounding flights to Iran citing concerns about the spread of the virus.

The UAE's ministry of foreign affairs issued a statement on Monday detailing a travel ban to Iran and Thailand following recent concerns on the new coronavirus, COVID-19, outbreaks in the aforementioned countries.

"In light of the UAE's efforts to monitor and contain the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19... the ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation has issued a travel ban, calling on all UAE citizens to not travel to Iran and Thailand at present and up until further notice," the statement read.

Tajikistan also suspended flights to and from Iran due to the spread of the new coronavirus in the Central Asian country, the government said.

The air link will remain suspended until the virus situation in Iran stabilises, the Civil Aviation Agency said in a statement.

Four immediate neighbours of the Islamic Republic - Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Armenia - said on Sunday they would close land borders, while three imposed restrictions on air traffic, amid growing regional concerns about the spread of the virus.

"To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran," the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan tweeted.

A provincial official in Pakistan and the nation's Frontier Corps confirmed the country had sealed the land border with Iran.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long and porous borders with Iran, which are often used by smugglers and human traffickers. Millions of Afghan refugees live in the Islamic republic - raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.

Iraqi and Kuwaiti authorities have already banned travel to and from Iran and closed borders.

Fears around the spread of the virus are reaching fever pitch in Iraq, where protesters reportedly attempted a lockdown at Najaf International Airport, which apparently continues to operate flights from Iran after the first confirmed coronavirus diagnosis in the province.

Turkey said on Sunday it would close its borders with Iran, shutting off both air and land traffic from its eastern neighbour where at least eight people have died from the coronavirus.

The Islamic Republic has suffered the largest death toll from the virus, officially known outside of China.

There is concern that coronavirus clusters in Iran as well as in Italy and South Korea could signal a serious new stage in the global spread of the virus.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Turkey's land border with Iran would be closed from Sunday onwards, with flights from the Islamic Republic ceasing at 8pm local time (5pm GMT).

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