Saudi Arabia halted entry and exit into Jeddah governorate on Sunday, expanding lockdown rules as it reported four new deaths from a coronavirus outbreak that continues to spread in the region despite drastic measures to contain it. Iran’s COVID-19 death toll has risen to 2,640 which led authorities to extend prison furloughs.
The Saudi health ministry said four more foreign residents, in Jeddah and Medina, had died from the virus, taking the total to eight. The kingdom confirmed 96 new infections to raise its tally to 1,299, the highest among Gulf Arab states.
Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain reported more cases, taking the total in the six Gulf Arab countries to over 3,200, with 15 deaths.
Saudi authorities imposed entry and exit bans on Jeddah, after doing so for the cities of Riyadh, Mecca and Medina last week.
The kingdom late on Saturday extended indefinitely its suspension of international passenger flights and a bar on workplace attendance.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have imposed partial curfews and the UAE has imposed an overnight curfew until April 5 under a nationwide campaign to sterilize streets and public venues.
UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al Shamsi announced coronavirus-related fines, including 50,000 dirhams ($13,000) for non-compliance with home quarantine orders and 3,000 dirhams for violating the curfew.
Kuwait and the UAE have also halted passenger flights at main airports. Oman suspended international passenger flights on Sunday.
The UAE emirate of Ras Al Khaimah said late on Saturday that hundreds of German tourists had been repatriated. Kuwait said it evacuated 97 of its nationals on Sunday from Iran, one of the epicenters of the disease.
Bahrain, which has about 1,000 citizens stuck in Iran, has been struggling to charter aircraft willing to operate repatriation flights.
But Manama said on Sunday it had leased an aircraft to fly back 31 Bahrainis who decided to travel from Tehran to Qatar in an attempt to get home.
Qatar Airways, one of the few airlines maintaining scheduled commercial passenger services, will continue to fly, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker told Reuters, but warned the carrier could soon run out of cash and seek state support.
Iran extends prison furloughs as death toll rises
Iran’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 2,640, a health ministry official said on Sunday, as the Middle East’s worst-hit country grapples with the fast-spreading outbreak.
“In the past 24 hours we had 123 deaths and 2,901 people have been infected, bringing the total number of infected people to 38,309,” Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to the health minister, said in a tweet. “12,391 people infected from the virus have recovered.”
Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV that 3,467 of those infected were in “critical condition”.
“I am happy to announce that also 12,391 people who had been infected across the country have recovered,” Jahanpur said. “The average age of those who have died of the disease is 69.”
President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to adapt to their new way of life, which was likely to continue for some time.
“We must prepare to live with the virus until a treatment is discovered … The new measures that have been imposed are for everyone’s benefit … Our main priority is the safety and the health of our people,” Rouhani said during a televised meeting.
The government has banned inter-city travel after warning of a potential surge in coronavirus cases because many Iranians defied calls to cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20.
The authorities told Iranians to stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural, religious and sports centers have been temporarily closed.
To stem the spread of the virus in crowded jails, Iran’s judiciary on Sunday extended furloughs for 100,000 prisoners. On March 17, Iran said it had freed about 85,000 people from jail temporarily, including political prisoners.
“The second wave of (the) temporary release of prisoners had already started and their (100,000 prisoners) furloughs have been extended until April 19,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili was reported as saying by state television.
Iran said it had 189,500 people in prison, according to a report submitted by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran to the Human Rights Council in January.
Iranian authorities say that U.S. sanctions are hampering their efforts to curb the outbreak and have urged other countries and the United Nations to call for the measures to be lifted. Washington has rejected a lifting of sanctions.
Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
“U.S. has gone from sabotage & assassinations to waging an economic war & #EconomicTerrorism on Iranians—to #MedicalTerror amidst #covid19iran. This even exceeds what would be permissible on the battlefield,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Sunday.
“STOP aiding WAR CRIMES. STOP obeying IMMORAL & ILLEGAL U.S. sanctions.”
The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran on Thursday. Tehran has rejected a U.S. offer to help Iran to cope with the pandemic.