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Lebanon, Russia, Pakistan suspend Iran flights over coronavirus

Commuters wear face masks on a street in Karachi, Pakistan [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 28 February, 2020

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Lebanon, Russia and Pakistan have restricted travel from Iran in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Lebanon, Russia and Pakistan announced on Friday new restrictions on travel to their countries from Iran - one of the countries hit hardest by the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Lebanon's transport ministry said it was halting flights for non-residents from China, Italy and South Korea - the countries suffering from coronavirus outbreaks along with Iran.

The travel restrictions do not apply to Lebanese citizens and foreign residents of Lebanon, Reuters reported.

In a similar move, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced a temporary suspension of visas for Iranians travelling to Russia for education, employment, tourism and transit.

A separate decree imposed restrictions on travel to Russia from South Korea, with exceptions including members of official delegations.

Meanwhile Pakistan suspended all flights to Iran and closed land borders with its neighbour, officials confirmed on Friday, after Islamabad detected its first two coronavirus cases, both people who had recently travelled to the Islamic Republic.

Flights to and from China, the epicentre of the deadly outbreak, and Afghanistan, which also detected its first case this week, were still operating, however, and their land borders with Pakistan were also open.

"Aviation Division has decided to cease all direct flights between Pakistan and Iran," civil aviation authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Khokhar said.

No Pakistani airlines were operating between the two countries, meaning the move hits three Iranian carriers - Iran Air, Mahan Air and Taban Air.

The virus has now killed 2,856 people and infected more than 83,000 worldwide, with an increasing number of new cases being reported each day.

New infections have slowed in China, which has nearly 2,800 deaths out of nearly 79,000 cases.

Fears in Pakistan  

However Iran has emerged as a new hotspot for the virus, with at least 26 deaths and more than 245 infections so far.

There are growing fears in Pakistan - sandwiched between China and Iran - over how the country would deal with the outbreak.

Its porous borders, creaking hospitals, culture of hand shaking and hugging, and large illiterate populations in crowded urban centres mean containing the crisis could be a huge challenge.

Pakistan's two cases were detected in the capital Islamabad, and in the teeming port megacity of Karachi, in southern Sindh province.

In Islamabad doctors at the city's largest public hospital told AFP they had not been provided with masks or other protective gear to treat suspected patients.

While in Karachi, officials said they were scrambling to screen at least 1,500 people who had recently returned from Iran.

The cost of surgical masks was shooting up in the city's markets, and with schools closed and some people staying inside its notorious traffic had eased.

Authorities this week also moved quickly to quarantine at least 270 people in southwestern Balochistan province, near the Iranian border, after a group of pilgrims returned and briefly mixed with other residents.

Read more: How the Middle East is dealing with coronavirus

"We have set-up an 80-tent quarantine facility at Taftan border, we will bring back Pakistanis in Iran in batches," said Najeebullah Qambrani, a local official in the town which is one of the main crossings to Iran.

On Friday schools also remained closed in Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

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