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COVID-19: Iran Surpasses 1,000 Deaths With Highest 24-Hour Rise Yet


Soldiers wearing facemasks stand guard on road leading to a quarantine faciltity (R) for people returning from Iran via the Pakistan-Iran border town of Taftan to prevent the spread the coronavirus in Sukkur, a city in southern province of Sindh.

The global coronavirus pandemic has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.

Here's a roundup of developments in RFE/RL's broadcast countries.

Iran

Iran's death toll from the coronavirus has reached 1,135, with 147 deaths over the past 24 hours -- the highest 24-hour rise yet -- state TV reported on March 18, as President Hassan Rohani defended his government's response to the outbreak.

Iran has been the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, with a total of 16,169 confirmed cases, roughly 90 percent of the region's cases.

Iran has been accused of acting too slowly and of even covering up initial cases.

But Rohani on March 18 rejected criticism of his government's response to the coronavirus outbreak, telling a government meeting that authorities have been “straightforward" with the nation, and that it had announced the outbreak as soon as it learned about it on February 19.

"We spoke to people in a honest way. We had no delay,” Rohani said.

Government officials pleaded for weeks with clerics to completely close crowded holy shrines to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The government finally shut down the shrines this week.

“It was difficult of course to shut down mosques and holy sites, but we did it. It was a religious duty to do it,” Rohani said.

The outbreak has cast a shadow over the Persian New Year, Norouz, that begins on March 20.

Iran warned on March 17 that “millions” could die in the Islamic republic if people keep traveling and ignore health guidance.

Moldova

Moldova on March 18 reported its first death from coronavirus.

"A first Moldovan citizen died of the coronavirus infection last night. This is a 61-year-old woman," Health, Labor, and Social Protection Minister Viorica Dumbraveanu said.

The woman had recently returned from Italy and was suffering from several illnesses, Dumbraveanu said.

The manager of the Chisinau hospital where the woman died told the media that the woman's village has been placed under quarantine.

Moldova, a nation of 3.5 million sandwiched between EU member Romania and Ukraine, reported 30 confirmed coronavirus cases as of March 18.

Moldova's parliament on March 17 imposed a 60-day state of emergency in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

The country, one of the poorest in Europe, has already temporarily shut its borders and suspended all international flights from March 17.

Hundreds of thousands of Moldovans have been working abroad, many of them in Italy and Spain, two of the countries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.


Separately, Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester declared a state of emergency until April 5 in the wake of the outbreak.

Transdniester declared independence in 1990 and fought a bloody war with Moldova two years later. It is unrecognized by the international community but is unofficially backed by Russia, which stations hundreds of troops in the region.​

Romania/Hungary

Thousands of workers returning from Western Europe have arrived overnight at Hungary's border with Romania after traveling all night from Austria in a police-monitored column.

The estimated 7,000 Romanians had been blocked for almost 24 hours at the border between Austria and Hungary after Budapest closed its border crossings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Most of the delayed Romanians are returning from Italy and Spain, the world's second- and fourth-most affected countries by the virus.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government imposed sweeping restrictions just after at midnight on March 17, closing land crossings to foreigners and as well as border crossings at airports.

Romanian media reports say more than 800 vehicles arrived in the early hours of March 18 at the Nagylak-Nadlac border crossing after Hungary's government agreed to open a one-off "humanitarian corridor" following a request from Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu.

Aurescu said the blockage was caused by the lack of prior official notice from Hungary about its intention to close the borders.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto agreed to the request on condition the travelers take a designated transit route and be accompanied by police. A number of Bulgarians were also among the returning travelers.

Hungary reported having 50 confirmed coronavirus infections on March 17, with one death.

On March 18, Romania reported 29 more confirmed cases, bringing the total to 246, as well as 19 recovered cases. There have been no coronavirus deaths inside the country.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria announced it has entered into a fiscal deficit and Ukraine said it is seeking a bigger lending program from the International Monetary Fund beyond the $5.5 billion for which it was asking.

Confirmed cases in Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest but least indebted country, spiked by 30 percent on March 17 to 81. The government in Sofia banned all foreign and domestic holiday trips until April 13.

Kosovo

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci the same day asked the country’s parliament to declare a state of emergency, a vote that by law is required within 48 hours.

“As a president, I never thought that it would come to this moment,” Thaci said at a news conference.

The Balkan country has 19 registered cases of the virus and has closed all schools, borders, bars, and eateries, and canceled all flights, while keeping grocery stores and pharmacies open.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina declared a state of emergency to enable coordination of activities between its two autonomous regions.

"We are focusing in all ways on how to alleviate the consequences of the coronavirus," Prime Minister Zoran Tegeltija told reporters.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan says it has confirmed its first three cases of the coronavirus in a group of travelers returning from Saudi Arabia.

Kyrgyz Health Minister Kosmosbek Cholponbaev said on March 18 that the three Kyrgyz nationals who tested positive are from the southern Suzak district in the Jalal-Abad region.

The travelers, who returned to the country on March 12, are 70, 62, and 43 years of age, he added.

Authorities in the district have sealed off the villages of Blagoveshchenka, Boston, and Orta-Aziya and placed 19 checkpoints nearby, regional officials said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Abdrakhmanov said in a statement that as of March 18, all foreigners have been banned from entering Kyrgyzstan.

Elsewhere In Central Asia

In neighboring Kazakhstan, the Health Ministry said on March 18 that the number of coronavirus cases had reached 35, after two more were confirmed in the country’s largest city, Almaty.

Kazakhstan has declared a state of emergency until April 15 and as of March 19 two major cities, Nur-Sultan, the capital, and Almaty, will be in lockdown.

Another Central Asian country, Uzbekistan, confirmed on March 18 that its total number of confirmed cases had reached 13.

So far, no coronavirus cases have been officially announced in two other Central Asian nations, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, authorities said they seized nearly 700,000 face masks needed for the coronavirus outbreak from a company that sought a higher price for shipment.

The EU country has reported 434 cases of the pathogen as of March 18.

The virus has caused nearly 8,000 deaths across the world. European Union leaders on March 17 agreed to shut down the bloc’s external borders for 30 days.

“Very, very limited exceptions” will be given to people allowed to enter the EU during the entry ban, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Britain also agreed to the entry ban.

Italy now accounts for one-third of the global death toll with 2,503 deaths and 27,980 infections. Spain, the fourth-most infected country, has 11,178 registered cases and 491 deaths.

China, where the virus was first reported in December, has the most with 3,241.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, Interfax, TASS, AFP, RFE/RL's Romanian and Moldovan services, hotnews.ro, digi24.ro, and g4media.ro

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