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Iran seals off religious sites as coronavirus death toll rises & Pakistan reports new cases

Iran seals off religious sites as coronavirus death toll rises & Pakistan reports new cases
Iran has imposed partial restrictions on holy sites and canceled some Friday sermons, as the country grapples with a rising COVID-19 death toll. Meanwhile, neighboring Pakistan has confirmed its first cases of the coronavirus.

The highest number of coronavirus fatalities outside China have occurred in Iran, with 19 people dead, according to the country’s health ministry. With another 139 infected, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that his government has no plans of quarantining entire cities or districts yet, according to state television.

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However, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that some restrictions will be put in place at certain Shiite holy sites, and some Friday sermons will be canceled across the country. Some schools and universities have been closed since authorities announced the outbreak last week, and soccer matches and concerts have been called off.

Across the border to the southeast, Pakistan confirmed its first two cases of the deadly illness on Wednesday. Both patients had recently returned from Iran, where one had traveled with a group of pilgrims to the holy city of Qom.

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Holy sites in Iran draw millions of Shia pilgrims every year, and authorities in neighboring countries are concerned that these people, on top of the regular flow of business travelers and tourists, could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus throughout the Middle East. As well as in Pakistan, cases of the virus have already been reported in Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Georgia, involving people who recently visited Iran.

Originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan in November, the COVID-19 coronavirus has since spread to around 40 countries worldwide, infecting more than 81,000 people. Around 2,770 people have died, the vast majority of them in China.

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