Iran announces 3 new cases of new virus after 2 deaths

Iranian family wear protective masks to prevent contracting a coronavirus, as they stand at Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran February 20, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency via Reuters)
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Updated 20 February 2020

Iran announces 3 new cases of new virus after 2 deaths

  • A health ministry official said the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Iran was five, including the two elderly Iranian citizens who died on Wednesday in Qom
  • Authorities were now investigating the origin of the disease, and its possible link with religious pilgrim

TEHRAN: Iran said Thursday that three more people have been infected with the new virus that originated in central China, following an announcement the day before that two people had died of the illness caused by the virus in the Iranian city of Qom.

All schools and universities, including religious Shiite seminaries, were shut down in the holy city of Qom, according to the official IRNA news agency. Other news reports said Iran had recently evacuated 60 Iranian students from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the epidemic.

Qom, located around 140 kilometers (86 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, is a popular religious destination and a center of learning and religious studies for Shiite Muslims from inside Iran, as well as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. It is also known for its cattle farms.

An official in Iran's health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour said on his twitter account that the number of confirmed cases of the virus in Iran was five, including the two elderly Iranian citizens who died on Wednesday in Qom.

IRNA reported that the three new cases are all Iranians residing in Qom, with one of the infected having visited the city of Arak. Mohammad Mahdi Gouya, Iran’s deputy health minister, said they did not appear to have had any contact with Chinese nationals.

Iranian authorities were now investigating the origin of the disease, and its possible link with religious pilgrims from Pakistan or other countries.

Iran’s health minister, Saeed Namaki said the roughly 60 Iranian students evacuated from Wuhan had been quarantined upon their return to Iran and were discharged after 14 days without any health problems.

Iran once relied heavily on China to buy its oil and some Chinese companies have continued doing business with Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions. Unlike other countries — such as Saudi Arabia, which barred its citizens and residents from traveling to China — Iran has not imposed such measures on travel there.

The new virus emerged in Wuhan, China in December. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been infected globally, with more than 2,000 deaths being reported, mostly in China.

The new virus comes from a large family of coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal. The World Health Organization recently named the illness it causes COVID-19, referring to both coronavirus and its origin late last year.

The virus has had few cases in the Middle East so far. There has have been nine cases of the virus confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, which is a popular tourist destination, and one case in Egypt. Of the nine in the UAE, seven are Chinese nationals, one is a Filipino and another an Indian national.

On Thursday, Iraq's Interior Ministry announced the suspension of tourist visas for Iranians.

Meanwhile, Egypt's national air carrier announced Thursday that it would resume flights to China as of Feb. 27 after nearly three weeks of suspension.

Egypt Air said in a statement it will operate one flight a week between Cairo and two Chinese cities, Beijing and Guangzhou. Before the suspension, the carrier used to operate a daily flight to Guangzhou and three weekly ones to Beijing and Hangzhou.


Killing of Iranian dissident fuels tensions between Turkey, Iran

Updated 13 min 23 sec ago

Killing of Iranian dissident fuels tensions between Turkey, Iran

  • Tehran officials accused of ordering outspoken critic’s murder in Istanbul in 2019
  • Turkish investigation into the killing has resulted in the arrest of several suspects, including Turks and Iranians

ISTANBUL: A claim that two intelligence officers at Iran’s consulate in Turkey instigated the killing of an Iranian dissident in Istanbul last November has added to simmering tensions between the two countries.

Reuters said that it had been told by two senior Turkish officials that the dissident, Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, had been killed for criticizing Tehran’s political and military leadership.
Vardanjani was shot dead on an Istanbul street on Nov. 14, 2019, a little over a year after Turkish officials say he left Iran.
The accusation will increase friction between Turkey and Iran, two regional powers which had grown closer under the government of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, but which had recently fallen out over the war in Syria.
Before his death, Vardanjani was known as an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic who frequently targeted Tehran’s military and political leaders on his social media account, the Reuters report said.
“I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders. Pray that they don’t kill me before I do this,” the Iranian dissident said just three months before he was shot dead.
Vardanjani’s death came a year after he left Iran, where he was working in the Iranian Defense Ministry as a cybersecurity official. He also held a doctoral degree in artificial intelligence studies.
Reuters claimed the victim was also warned by Iran against discussing drone projects with Turkish officials.
The Turkish government is expected to take up the issue with Iran through diplomatic channels.
Seth J. Frantzman, executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said that if the Reuters claim is correct, Iran’s assassination of a dissident in Istanbul is an illegal act that warrants a harsh response.

BACKGROUND

’I will root out the corrupt mafia commanders. Pray that they don’t kill me before I do this,’ Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani said just three months before he was shot dead.

“Iran appears to have shown blatant disregard for Turkey’s sovereignty, even using its diplomatic posts and passports for this brazen act. This requires more than just a diplomatic complaint,” Frantzman told Arab News.
He said that the alleged perpetrators behind the killing were officials carrying diplomatic passports.
“It shows how Iran disregards borders in the region and globally. Internationally, countries should take this very seriously as part of a pattern of Iran’s assassinations of dissenters, a policy going back decades.”
Frantzman said that the alleged murder also reveals that while Iran is demanding international sanctions be reduced, it has continued to conduct illegal overseas operations and “disrespect” its neighbors.
A Turkish investigation into the dissident’s killing has resulted in the arrest of several suspects, including Turks and Iranians.
The allegations are likely to further undermine ties between Ankara and Tehran.
Although Turkey and Iran have been cooperating on a Syria strategy, their partnership is seen by many as a marriage of convenience in a conflict zone where they back opposing sides. Tehran supports Assad, while Turkey wants the regime ousted.
Last month Turkish and Iranian media outlets engaged in a war of words over Syria, with both countries accusing the other of “pursuing aggressive moves” in the war-torn country.
In October 2019, Iran condemned the presence of Turkish military posts inside Syria, which it said were a violation of Syria’s territorial integrity.
Tehran also described Turkey’s operation in northern Syria in early October against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as an “invasion.”
Erdogan was quick to respond, accusing Iran of betraying the consensus between the two countries.
Attacks by Iranian-backed militia on Ankara-backed fighters in Syria’s rebel-held regions have also angered Turkey.