Having long been a regional crossroads, Iran is spreading the new Coronavirus to a number of neighboring countries. Many countries have weak health systems and are not ready to respond.
Pilgrims, migrant workers, businessmen, soldiers and clerics constantly cross the Iranian border, often going through loose, ineffective border control countries and fragile medical systems.
Now, in its fight to prevent the spread of corona virus, Iran is emerging as the second hot spot after China, according to the New York Times.
Cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates (UAE) – even one in Canada – are all from Iran, causing widespread fear from Kabul to Beirut.
Iran is the perfect place for a Coronavirus pandemic
According to experts, the Middle East is in many ways the perfect place for a pandemic to explode, with the constant movement of Muslim pilgrims and migrant workers who may carry the virus.
Iran’s economy is stifled by sanctions and its leaders are isolated from much of the world, leaving the picture of the epidemic unclear.
Meanwhile, civil wars as well as years of instability have disrupted the health systems of some neighboring countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Most of the area is ruled by less transparent governments, irresponsible to the people and poor public health services.
“This is a recipe for a widespread virus outbreak,” said Peter Piot, Rector of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, former executive director of the United Nations Joint Program on HIV / AIDS.
Millions of Muslim pilgrims travel throughout the region each year to visit Shiite sites in Iran and Iraq. In January alone, 30,000 people returned to Afghanistan from Iran and hundreds more continued their pilgrimage to Qom, the outbreak site in Iran, every week, according to Afghan officials.
Iraq closed the border with Iran on February 22, but millions cross the border every year. So a lot of infected people could potentially bring the virus to Iraq. And until noon 24/2 at Najaf, flights to and from Iran still took off.
Governors of Iraqi provinces bordering Iran are seriously preparing to cope with the risk of disease spread, and at least two governors have personally inspected border crossings to ensure that these places are supervised and Iranians cannot enter Iraq.
Qutaybah al-Jubouri, head of the Iraqi parliament’s Health Committee, called the new strain of corona virus (officially known as SARS-CoV-2) a “plague” and said his commission was demanding closure. further comprehensive the entire border “land, sea and air” with Iran “until the disease is fully controlled”.
The Iranian Ministry of Health sent a letter to Governor Qom on February 20 and asked Shiite religious leaders to limit the number of pilgrims at Fatima Masumeh Temple and other religious sites in the city. But until early February 25, crowds of people gathered around the temple, touched it and participated in joint prayers.
Information chaos in Iran about the Coronavirus disease
In many ways, Iran is the place to apply a case study of the risk of disease spread. The country reported its first case less than a week ago, in Qom. On February 24, health officials said four people had died there the day before, bringing the total number of deaths to 12. At least 61 others were infected with the new virus reported in Isfahan, Hamedan. and other cities, as well as in Qom.
Now, the delay in updating information about the spread of the virus is further damaging Tehran’s reputation, less than 2 months after officials were forced to admit to lying about the air defense system. wrong shot of Ukrainian passenger plane. Many Iranians on 24 February publicly questioned official statements about the spread of the virus.
A member of parliament representing Qom announced on February 24 that at least 50 people died there, including 34 quarantined people, and the first case was reported more than two weeks before officials. officials first admitted there were people infected with the virus.
“Ten people die every day in Qom,” Senator Ahmad Amiri Farahani said in a speech to parliament, demanding the isolation of his city.
Health officials vehemently denied his statement. “I will resign if the figure is half or a quarter of this,” said Ahmad Harirchi, an adviser to the health minister.
Worrying about the public, Iranian media reported that Dr. Mohamad Reza Ghadir, rector of a medical university in Qom and the top official handling the outbreak there, was among those isolation.
On Feb. 24, Dr. Ghadir said on Iranian state television that the Ministry of Health ordered city officials not to publish any statistics related to the disease situation in Qom. The situation there “is very serious and the disease has spread throughout the city,” he said.
The Iranians ignored government calls to stay away from hospitals for fear of spreading the disease, and instead rushed to emergency rooms for tests. Imam Khomeini Hospital in Tehran has set up a tent outside to cope with the influx.
In an interview with the BBC from Tehran, Dr. Babak Gharaye Moghadam urged citizens to “please, please obey” the recommendations of health officials and not listen to information on social networks.
The price of medical masks has skyrocketed across the region, including in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, where some stores are selling 30 times the price.
Iran is not ready to respond to Coronavirus
Experts are concerned that not many Middle Eastern countries are ready to respond effectively to a virus threat.
“How are these countries ready?” Dr. Montaser Bilbisi, an infectious disease specialist trained in the US and practicing in Amman, Jordan, said. “To be honest, I haven’t seen the level of readiness I’ve seen in China or elsewhere, and even some personal protective equipment is missing.”
For example, in Jordan, he has not seen any protective clothing. “Therefore, health workers will be at very high risk of infection.”
In Afghanistan, officials said the first confirmed case of the virus was a 35-year-old man in the western province of Herat, recently to Qom. Health officials have declared a state of emergency in Herat. The government on February 23 halted all flight routes and routes to and from Iran.
But the border is difficult to close. Thousands of people cross the border each week to make religious pilgrimages, trade, work and study – about 30,000 people in January alone, according to the report of the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental agency.
“In the past two weeks, more than 1,000 people have dropped in or gone to Qom from Herat, meaning they have come in close contact with the virus,” Afghan Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz said at a press conference in Kabul on February 24.
While officials reassured that they had asked for more medical masks, people were still bewildered about other precautions.
The son of a professor at a university in Herat, who returned from Iran three days ago, called a New York Times correspondent on February 24 to ask what the quarantine procedure included.
“My father showed no signs of infection with corona virus, but he and our family were very worried,” said the son, Mohamad Iman. “He locked himself in a room and just read books. He told us to put some food and water for him in front of the door, and to stay away.”
Saudi Arabia was the epicenter of a similar outbreak 7 years ago, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in which the virus spread from camel to humans.
But even seven years later, Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world, has struggled to put in place the most advanced epidemiological hygiene processes to limit the spread of the virus in hospitals. . A MERS outbreak last spring killed at least 61 people, with 8 dead.
“Many hospitals in Saudi Arabia have improved but some hospitals can still do a better job of prevention,” said Dr. David L. Heymann, former president of the British Health Protection Agency.
In Iraq, the country with the longest border with Iran, only one case has been discovered so far: a 22-year-old Iranian religious student in Najaf, named Suhail Mohammad Ali.
In the first comprehensive efforts to combat the spread of the virus, the education agency in Najaf on February 24 postponed the spring exam and the sacred Imam Ali temple was closed.
The Iraqi Ministry of Health recommends that people avoid crowded places, kissing or shaking hands.
In Lebanon, a 41-year-old woman, who traveled to Qom on a religious pilgrimage, arrived at the airport in Beirut on the evening of February 20 and tested positive for the virus the next day. However, it was not until February 24 that the government introduced an emergency plan, which restricted access to affected areas and people on entry would be quarantined at the airport if they had symptoms.
But no specific orders were issued; Not all passengers landing in Beirut in recent days have been checked and two other aircraft from Qom were allowed to land in Beirut on February 24. Passengers on board a plane carrying an infected Lebanese woman from Qom were asked to isolate themselves at home.
Health Minister Hamad Hasan on 24 February urged Lebanese to remain calm. But Rabih Shaer, founder of a non-profit anti-corruption organization in Lebanon, said the government’s slow response was “to be irresponsible and criminal”.
“Lebanese people have lost faith that this political class can cope with any problem,” he said. “And now, until today, they have not taken the right measures. No transparency, no responsibility.”
Dr. Nada Melhem, a virologist at Beirut American University, advising the Lebanese Ministry of Health, admits that “the level of panic in Lebanon is very high”.
“But with systematic monitoring, we will be able to control the epidemic,” she added. “We will make a few mistakes? We will definitely miss them, but I hope we can limit them as much as possible.”