February 24 coronavirus news

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8:53 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Iran is on the front line of the Middle East's coronavirus outbreak

A border crossing between Turkey and Iran in Turkey's Yuksekova district. Turkey has temporarily closed its border over the coronavirus outbreak.
A border crossing between Turkey and Iran in Turkey's Yuksekova district. Turkey has temporarily closed its border over the coronavirus outbreak. Credit: Ulas Guven/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Across the Middle East, flights from Iran have stopped and borders with the country have been closed as the region tries to keep the spread of a deadly coronavirus at bay.

Iran is on the front line of the outbreak -- the health ministry has confirmed 61 cases and 12 deaths (though one lawmaker in Qom claims the death toll is much higher).

Several travellers from Iran have contracted the virus -- three cases have been confirmed in Kuwait, one in Bahrain, one in Lebanon, one in Iraq, and one in Canada.

Turkey, Pakistan and Iraq have closed their borders with Iran. Kuwait Airways, Iraq Airways and Turkey have suspended flights to the country.

In Lebanon, flights from Iran continue, despite a social media backlash. Lebanon has a large Shia population, many of whom regularly pay pilgrimage to Shia holy sites in Iran, such as Qom. 

In Qatar, passengers from Iran -- as well as South Korea -- have been quarantined.

One Iranian lawmaker, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani from the holy city of Qom, criticized the government’s handling of the outbreak, accusing officials of covering up numbers.

Farahani said 50 people had died from the virus in Qom, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

Iran’s health ministry has denied his claims.

8:43 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Iraq's first coronavirus case is a student from Iran

An Iranian student who entered Iraq prior to the country's travel ban on Iran has been confirmed to have coronavirus, according to a statement by Iraq’s Ministry of Health on Monday.

The student has been admitted into quarantine in the city of Najaf, the ministry added.

“The ministry would like to clarify that the tests results made today for one Iranian student showed a positive infection of a student who entered Iraq before the travel ban decision,” the statement said.

8:20 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

100,000 people affected by Italy's restrictions, officials estimate

An Italian official stops a car at a police check-point near Castiglione d'Adda, southeast of Milan, on Monday.
An Italian official stops a car at a police check-point near Castiglione d'Adda, southeast of Milan, on Monday. Credit: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Restrictions designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Italy are affecting about 100,000 people in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, the country’s civil protection agency said Monday.

Around 70,000 people are affected by the restrictions in Lombardy, and about 30,000 in Veneto.

The figures are based on census data from nine years ago, the agency said.

Some background: Five people have died and at least 219 others have been infected with the virus in Italy. Strict emergency measures were put in place over the weekend, including a ban on public events in at least 10 municipalities, after a spike in confirmed cases in both regions.

8:11 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

CDC issues new travel advisories for Italy and Iran

Italian officials are seen outside a hospital where coronavirus patients are isolated in quarantine in Schiavonia, Italy on February 22.
Italian officials are seen outside a hospital where coronavirus patients are isolated in quarantine in Schiavonia, Italy on February 22. Credit: Roberto Silvino/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new travel advisories Sunday night for Italy and Iran following a rise in confirmed cases in both countries.

They are the fourth and fifth such advisories the agency has issued outside of mainland China.

The CDC advises travellers to “practice usual precautions" in both countries, in accordance with a “Watch - Level 1” notice of three possible levels. 

South Korea and Japan are under "Alert - Level 2," urging travellers to "practice enhanced precautions" and suggesting that "older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel," according to the agency's website.

Hong Kong carries the same Level 1 advisory as last week.

The agency lists mainland China as “Warning - Level 3” and advises travellers to “avoid nonessential travel.” The notice excludes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

The US State Department has issued its own coronavirus-related Level 2 travel advisories for South Korea, Japan, Macau and Hong Kong, out of four possible levels. It lists China at "Level 4: Do Not Travel."

7:50 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

US sanctions are affecting Iranians' access to virus test kits, says Iranian business association

A hospital staff member prepares to enter an isolation room of a suspected coronavirus patient at a hospital in Tehran, on February 9.
A hospital staff member prepares to enter an isolation room of a suspected coronavirus patient at a hospital in Tehran, on February 9. Credit: Morteza Nikoubazl/SIPA/Shutterstock

Iran is struggling to access novel coronavirus test kits due to US sanctions and newly imposed restrictions on Iran by a global money laundering watchdog, a board member of Iran’s Association of Medical Equipment Importers told the semi-official news agency ILNA on Sunday.

Ramin Fallah told ILNA that “many international companies are ready to supply Iran with coronavirus test kits, but we can’t send them money” because of the US sanctions.

Last Friday, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Iran on its blacklist, which puts more financial pressure on Iran and Iranian banks. 

Ramin Fallah said the FATF decision had caused more problems for the Iranian health sector as the country struggles to contain the virus, which has infected more than 60 people.

7:50 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Chinese government approves decision to ban consumption of wild animals

Guards patrol on January 24 outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, believed to be the source of the virus.
Guards patrol on January 24 outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, believed to be the source of the virus. Credit: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

China's top political body approved the decision on Monday to ban the consumption and the illegal trade of wild animals, which some experts believe to be the source of the virus.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee approved the ban on Monday in a bid to help “safeguard public health and ecological security," according to Chinese state media.

The move aims to “completely ban the eating of wild animals” while also “cracking down on illegal trade of wildlife,” state media reports.

The use of wild animals for scientific research, medicine and exhibition will now need to go through “strict examination and approval” by the supervising department in accordance with relevant regulations. 

This comes after Chinese authorities suspended the trade of wild animals on January 26th in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

7:34 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Japan says it's found the cruise ship passengers who were released by mistake

A general view shows the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku pier cruise terminal in Yokohama, Japan on Monday.
A general view shows the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku pier cruise terminal in Yokohama, Japan on Monday. Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

Japanese authorities are in contact with all 23 passengers who were released from the Diamond Princess cruise ship by mistake, the country's health ministry told CNN, adding that at least three of those passengers have retested negative for the coronavirus.

According to the ministry, the 23 passengers in question were required to have a second test because their initial test came before February 5, when a ship wide quarantine was mandated.

Passengers who were in close contact with an infected person after their first test were also required to have a second test and a reset 14 day quarantine since last contact before receiving certification to disembark. 

In terms of timing of the second test, the Japanese health ministry told CNN that there was no specific time window for those tests to take place, they just needed to be conducted during the passenger’s quarantine period. 

7:34 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Italy is still a safe place to travel to as the outbreak is contained, official says

Tourists wearing protective face masks visit the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy on Monday.
Tourists wearing protective face masks visit the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy on Monday. Credit: Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Images

The outbreak in Italy remains in a contained area and has not spread outside of it, the head of the country’s civil protection agency said Monday, adding that it remains safe to travel to Italy.

Angelo Borrelli, the agency's head, said the hotspots where the virus has been found are not expanding, and that those areas are under quarantine.

8:36 a.m. ET, February 24, 2020

Germany is not planning to cut travel links with Italy

Germany is currently not considering cutting travel links with Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak, its foreign ministry said Monday.

This comes as Italy's outbreak saw confirmed case numbers increase from three to more than 200 over the weekend.

“There is no travel warning for Italy and at this very moment and we are not intending to issue one,” Maria Adebahr, spokeswoman for the ministry, told reporters at a regular news conference.

Adebahr said that Germany updated its travel and security advice on travel Monday morning. It now reads: “If necessary, enquire at the Italian embassy or consulate responsible for you before starting your journey.”

Germany’s health ministry said Monday that the danger to the German population from the coronavirus remained low. However, the health ministry also said that this “assessment could change at short notice.” 

Read more.

This post has been corrected to more accurately describe Germany's announcement.