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Iraq records first death from coronavirus

Religious tourism to Shia holy cites has been severly curtailed [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2020

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Iraqi authorities announced further cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, raising the country's total to 32.
Iraq said a 70-year-old Muslim cleric died on Wednesday from the novel coronavirus, the first death from the outbreak in a country where 32 people have been infected.

Iraq is the now the second Middle Eastern country after Iran to record a fatality linked to the virus, otherwise known as Covid-19.

The death was announced by a local health department in Iraq's northern Kurdish province, according to Reuters

The victim, a 70-year-old cleric whose health was described as "unstable", died just hours after testing positive for the disease, Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported.

Iraqi authorities confirmed five new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the country's total number of cases to 32. 

Read also: 'They're the virus': Iraq coronavirus outbreak refuels anti-government protests

Baghdad's International Book Fair, which last year drew in a record one million visitors and hosted 700 publishing houses and bookshops from 23 countries, is likely to be cancelled this year as authorities scramble to contain the virus, according to The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site.

Last week, the government took measures to shut schools and universities for 10 days and banned travel to virus-hit states. 

Land borders with Iran were also closed as part of the fight against the disease, with entry into the country denied to foreign nationals travelling from Iran, a major epicentre of the disease, as well as other affected countries.

Religious tourism to Shia holy sites has been severely curtailed, according to The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site, striking a blow to a sector already damaged after months of protests and political turmoil.

Read more: Twenty-three Iranian MPs diagnosed with coronavirus

Millions of Shia pilgrims, many from neighbouring Iran, visit shrines in Karbala and nearby Najaf every year, especially during the huge annual Arbaeen commemoration.

The only form of tourism in a country ravaged by decades of conflict, foreign pilgrims create jobs for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and add billions of dollars to the Iraqi economy each year.

The majority of the 32 cases of diagnosed infection in Iraq are traced to travellers from the Islamic Republic, which is across the border.

On Wednesday, Iran recorded over 2,300 cases and 77 deaths, with around 8 percent of lawmakers testing positive for the virus. 

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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