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Iran bans Chinese tourists and cancels Friday prayers over coronavirus fears

Iraqi civil defence member sprays disinfectant on Iraq's Great Mosque of Kufa [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 27 February, 2020

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Lebanon, Oman and Iran have all announced new cases of coronavirus.
Iran banned Chinese tourists on Thursday as several Middle Eastern countries announced new cases of coronavirus, including one in Lebanon.

Friday prayers in Tehran will also be cancelled, Lebanon's Daily Star reported, in a bid to halt the spread of acute coronavirus that has so far claimed almost 30 lives in Iran.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Lebanon was one of several countries to announce a new case of COVID-19 Thursday.

Lebanon's health ministry said the country's third case was an Iranian national who arrived in Lebanon by plane at Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport on 24 February.

He is now in stable condition and in isolation at Hariri University Hospital, according to Lebanon Files.

Meanwhile, Oman also reported another case of coronavirus, taking its total number of cases to five.

The infected person recently travelled to Oman from Iran, the health ministry said in a statement Thursday.

"All cases are in stable health condition, without no deaths," the ministry's statement read, according to the Times of Oman.

Corona in Iran

In Iran, coronavirus has cost 26 lives, the health ministry announced Thursday, with seven new deaths reported over 24 hours as the spread appeared to accelerate.

Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour also told a press briefing that 106 more cases of the disease had been confirmed, raising the tally of infections to 245, the highest outside China where COVID-19 originated.

The additional cases made up the highest number for a single day since Iran announced its first cases on 19 February.

Among the latest sufferers of the new coronavirus is Mojtaba Zolnour, head of parliament's national security and foreign affairs committee, who appeared in a video posted by Fars news agency saying he was in self-quarantine.

The cleric is a deputy for the Shia holy city of Qom in central Iran where the country's first cases were detected.

Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar also tested positive for coronavirus Thursday.

The announcement by Zolnour comes two days after another top official, deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi, head of the government's coronavirus task force, said he too had contracted the virus.

Iranian authorities announced domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected cases of the novel coronavirus Wednesday.

International health experts have expressed concern about Iran's handling of the outbreak, but Tehran insists the situation has been "improving".

Umrah cancelled

In a shock move, Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended visas for visits to Islam's holiest sites for the "umrah" pilgrimage Thursday. 

Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, also suspended flights arriving from Lebanon Thursday, The Daily Star reported.

Saudi's foreign ministry has said it will not issue tourism visas to travellers from a country with confirmed coronavirus cases. The kingdom has no confirmed cases of the virus.

Bahrain's cases reached 33 on Thursday, according to state news agency BNA.

Some 81,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 2,760 have died, according to the latest toll from the World Health Organisation late on Wednesday.

In the UN body's latest count, more than 40 people have died outside mainland China since the start of the epidemic, out of more than 2,900 people infected.

Read more: How the Middle East is dealing with coronavirus

The number of deaths in China - where the virus was first detected - has declined, with 29 in the past 24 hours, the lowest count in nearly a month.

But the daily number of infections worldwide is still higher than in China, the WHO says.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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