Iran flights halted as coronavirus spreads across Middle East

Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, said Tuesday that the United Arab Emirates is limiting flights to Iran over the outbreak of the new coronavirus, just a day after it spread across multiple Middle East nations from the Islamic Republic.

The airport’s announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah for 48 hours over the virus as an infected passenger transited Dubai to the island nation.

The airport said that “all flights to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran, with the exception of Tehran, have been suspended until further notice”.

It added that “all passengers arriving on direct flights from Tehran will receive thermal screening at the airport.”

The country has already suspended all flights to and from China, with the exception of Beijing.

Bahrain counted its first case of the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 illness on Monday in a school bus driver who transited Dubai while coming from Iran. Later, it confirmed a second case, also a traveller from Iran via Dubai.

Dubai has been screening passengers on incoming flights from China, where the outbreak began. Long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad are among the few international airlines still flying to Beijing. However, the outbreak in Iran only became public in recent days.

Iran’s government on Tuesday said three more Iranians infected with a coronavirus had died, taking to 15 the toll in the Islamic Republic, which has the highest tally of deaths outside China, where the virus emerged late last year. South Korea has the largest number of reported infections outside China with more than 890 cases and 10 deaths.

Authorities in Iran have rejected claims of a much higher death toll of 50 by a lawmaker from the city of Qom that has been at the epicentre of the virus in the country. The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government’s transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak.

Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq and Oman also announced their first cases of the virus on Monday and connected them to travel with Iran.

The UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms on the Arabian Peninsula, has reported 13 cases of the new virus. Most of those were connected to Chinese travel.

The state-run Kuwait News Agency reported the eight cases Tuesday, all of whom had arrived from Iran. Kuwait had halted over the weekend transport links with Iran and was evacuating its citizens from Iran.

Iraq indefinitely extended an entry ban on travellers from China and Iran and instituted similar bans on travellers from Thailand, South Korean, Japan, Italy and Singapore.

The entry ban is for travellers coming directly or indirectly from those counties but exempts Iraqi nationals, diplomats and official delegations, the ministry said in a statement. It advised Iraqis not to travel to those countries.

Also, Oman, which has good ties with Iran, has halted flights with its Persian Gulf neighbour. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are the only two Gulf countries that still have direct flights to Iran.

Michael Ryan, head of World Health Organisation’s (WHO) health emergencies programme, said a team from the UN agency would arrive in Iran on Tuesday.

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