Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday lashed out at criticism of authorities’ lagging response to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, saying the government has to weigh economic concerns as it takes measures to contain the pandemic.
Syria meanwhile reported the first fatality from the virus in the war-torn country, which has five confirmed infections. The Syrian Arab News Agency said a woman died upon reaching an emergency room and tested positive for COVID-19, without saying where it happened.
Syria has closed schools, restaurants and nightclubs, and last week imposed a nighttime curfew to contain the virus’s spread. Its healthcare system has been battered by nearly a decade of civil war, leaving the country particularly vulnerable.
Libya, which has also been mired in chaos since 2011, reported another five cases, bringing its total to eight. The country is split by rival governments, each backed by an array of militias, that have been battling over the capital, Tripoli, for nearly a year.
Rouhani said authorities had to consider the effect of mass quarantine efforts on Iran’s beleaguered economy, which is under heavy US sanctions. It is a dilemma playing out across the globe, as leaders struggle to strike a balance between restricting human contact and keeping their economies from crashing.
“Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting. “We must put these principles together to reach a final decision.”
“This is not the time to gather followers,” he added. “This is not a time for political war.”
Even before the pandemic, Rouhani was under fire for the unraveling of the 2015 nuclear deal he concluded with the US and other world powers. US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement and has imposed crippling sanctions on Iran that prevent it from selling oil on international markets. Iran has rejected US offers of humanitarian aid.
Iran Ministry of Health spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour yesterday announced 117 new deaths, bringing the official total number of fatalities to 2,757, and 3,186 more cases, raising total infections to 41,495.
Elsewhere in the region, Qatar late on Saturday reported its first death from the new coronavirus, saying the total number of reported cases there was at least 590.
The tiny, energy-rich nation said it flew 31 Bahrainis stranded in Iran into Doha on a state-run Qatar Airways flight. However, since Bahrain is one of four Arab countries that have been boycotting Qatar in a political dispute since 2017, Doha said it could not fly the 31 onward to the island kingdom.
“Bahraini officials have said they will send a flight for them at some undefined point in the future,” the Qatari government said in a statement.
Bahrain said it planned a flight on Sunday to pick up the stranded passengers. The kingdom said it had its own repatriation flights scheduled for those still stuck in Iran and warned Qatar that it “should stop interfering with these flights.”
In Egypt, at least 1,200 Sudanese were stranded at the border after Sudan closed all its crossings, Egyptian officials at one of the crossings said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
Sudan, which is still reeling from the uprising that toppled then-president Omar al-Bashir last year, has six confirmed cases, including two fatalities. It is one of several countries in the region where the healthcare system has been degraded by years of war and sanctions. Authorities closed the borders to prevent any further spread.
The second death was announced as a positive coronavirus case earlier on Sunday, more than two weeks after the person’s return from the United Arab Emirates.
Sudanese Minister of Culture and Information Faisal Saleh said Sudanese authorities are looking for lodging in Egypt for the stranded passengers.
He said authorities have quarantined at least 160 undocumented migrants who were sent into Sudan from war-torn Libya earlier this month.
Residents in Egypt’s southern city of Luxor said they are providing shelter to the stranded Sudanese.
“We have provided food and medicine to the Sudanese brothers,” said Mahmoud Abdel-Rahim, a local farmer. “People hosted women, children and elders in their homes.”
Additional reporting by AFP
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