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As Coronavirus deaths rise in Iran, Iraq and Kuwait are on alert

Iraqi and Kuwaiti authorities were on high alert Friday after the death toll from the new Coronavirus has hit four.

Iran’s health ministry Friday reported two more deaths among 13 new diagnosed cases of the COVID-19 virus, doubling the total number of deaths in the Islamic republic and taking the total number of diagnosed infections there to 18.

Both Iraq and Kuwait, which respectively share land and maritime borders with Iran, have not confirmed any cases of the virus internally.

But the outbreak in Iran has sparked alarm, since many of the Coronavirus cases involved residents of the city of Qom, a popular destination for Kuwaiti and Iraqi.

Iraq is a popular destination for millions of Iranian Shiite pilgrims, including religious scholars from Qom, who visit holy sites in the southern provinces of Najaf and Karabala.

Iran is also the second-largest exporter of goods to Iraq, sending products to the value of around nine billion dollars annually.

The COVID-19 virus, however, has triggered unprecedented measures.

Iraq on Thursday clamped down on travel to and from the Islamic republic, with Iraq’s health ministry announcing people in Iran were barred from entering the country “until further notice”.

“Iranians are prohibited from entering (Iraq),” a senior official stated, adding that border crossings with Iran had been closed, with only returning Iraqis allowed to pass through.

Those Iraqis would be examined and, if necessary, placed in quarantine for 14 days, the health ministry said.

Iraqi nationals are also not allowed to travel to Iran, according to the ministry.

The border closure followed a backlash against a Wednesday announcement of visa waivers for Iranian nationals wishing to travel to Iraq.

Iraqis took to social media using the hashtag “close the border” and local officials called for a ban on the entry of goods and people.

Iraqi airports were already screening travelers for the virus and national carrier Iraqi Airways has suspended flights to Iran.

Iraq had previously issued a ban on the entry of Chinese nationals.

In Kuwait, national carrier Kuwait Airways announced Thursday it would suspend all flights to Iran, while its ports will also be closed to passengers travelling to and from the country.

Kuwaitis were advised not to travel to Qom, and were warned anyone arriving from the city they would be quarantined.