Iraqis catch coronavirus amid fear of spillover
February 25 2020 11:42 PM
An Iraqi man checks a protective mask at a pharmacy yesterday, in the holy city of Najaf.
An Iraqi man checks a protective mask at a pharmacy yesterday, in the holy city of Najaf.

Reuters / Baghdad

Iraq shut schools and universities yesterday and told citizens to avoid mass gatherings, as it rushed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from its neighbour Iran, hit by what appeared to be the worst outbreak outside of China.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from Iran tested positive for the coronavirus in Kirkuk province.
They were the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease, a day after an Iranian student in Najaf became Iraq’s first confirmed case.
Measures to curb the spread could have major political repercussions in Iraq, where around 500 people have been killed in anti-government protests since last year.
A populist cleric called off plans yesterday for a “million-man” demonstration.
In Mosul, all public offices would be closed today and tomorrow, the governor said.
Mosques were instructed to include advice on avoiding coronavirus in their Friday sermons.
Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak.
It has cultural and religious ties with its neighbour and receives millions of Iranian pilgrims each year at holy festivals.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from Iran and China, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list yesterday.
Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Yesterday the government urged Iraqis to avoid all public gatherings.
Gatherings were banned in Najaf, one of the most heavily visited pilgrimage sites in the world. Schools and universities were shut, for 10 days in Najaf and indefinitely in Kirkuk.
The autonomous northern Kurdish region cancelled all education until after a March 20 holiday.
Iran has reported 16 coronavirus deaths, the most outside China, and at least 95 confirmed cases including the deputy health minister.
On Monday, it said it had 900 suspected cases, which, if confirmed, would be the most outside China.
The semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people have been hospitalised in Iran.
International experts worry that official numbers could underestimate the scale of Iran’s outbreak.
The four new cases in Iraq were placed in quarantine, the health ministry said.
The Iranian student was sent back to Iran by ambulance.

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