The coronavirus outbreak has killed at least another 97 people in Iran, pushing the country’s death toll past 600 and triggering new limits on people’s movements.
Iran is the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Middle East, with more than 12,700 confirmed infections – including several senior government officials testing positive.
A spokesman for Iran’s Health Ministry announced on state TV that the new death toll is at 611, while at the same time revealing “some new restrictions” on movement in and out of cities.
Minister Saeed Namaki did not elaborate on the new measures.
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Iran has suspended schools and banned spectators from stadiums, but religious shrines remain open. The streets and markets are still crowded in the capital, Tehran, which has been the hardest hit by the virus.
There are concerns that the number of infections in Iran is much higher than the confirmed cases reported by the government.
“Nobody believes the numbers coming out of Tehran,” Matthew Schmidt, national security and political science expert at the University of New Haven, told Fox News. “It may well be that Iran is now the epicenter of the outbreak. The government has and continues to misreport the number of cases and deaths. But this is due as much to incompetence as a cover-up.”
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Elsewhere in the region, United Arab Emirates on Saturday shut down major tourism and cultural venues, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum and Ferrari World theme park, through the end of March.
Dubai, the UAE’s regional business and transit hub, said it was canceling all events planned in March and asked hotels not to host wedding celebrations during this period.
Gulf Arab states have stepped up measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak with various measures.
Saudi Arabia suspended all international flights for two weeks starting Sunday, while Kuwait locked down its airports to similar flights on Saturday.
The Gulf nation of Oman announced it would close all schools and educational facilities for one month.
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There have been no reported deaths in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of six oil-rich Arab monarchies that also include Qatar and Bahrain. They have reported nearly 850 coronavirus cases so far, mostly involving people who have traveled to Iran or who were infected by them.
In Syria, the government announced a series of precautionary measures, including closing schools and universities until April 2.
Following a cabinet meeting Friday night, the government also said it was reducing working hours in public institutions and canceling all cultural and sporting events, and all other events involving large gatherings, for the time being.
Syria also says it has taken preventive measures at all ports and border crossings. The country has suspended travel with neighboring countries Iraq and Jordan, and it has halted religious tourism for a month.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.