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COVID-19: Serbia Declares State Of Emergency; Iran Warns Of Overwhelmed Health System

Workers in Iran disinfect streets in central Tehran against the novel coronavirus.
Workers in Iran disinfect streets in central Tehran against the novel coronavirus.

The latest on the coronavirus crisis in RFE/RL's broadcast countries:


Serbia has declared a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus outbreak, shutting down schools and universities and deploying the military to guard hospitals.

"We will close down to save our lives, to save our parents, to save our elderly," President Aleksandar Vucic said in a televised address on March 15.

Vucic said the details of the measures will be announced on March 16, adding that "there will be limitations of all sorts."

The president said that from March 16 the military will be guarding state hospitals, while police will be monitoring those quarantined or in self-isolation for 14 or 28 days.

Those who violate quarantine may face jail terms of up to three years, he warned.

Earlier on March 15, Serbia announced it was closing the borders to foreigners coming from the worst-hit countries.

Vucic, however, said the border entry ban does not apply to people from China, praising Beijing for helping Serbia amid the COVID-19 crisis.

He criticized the European Union for allegedly failing to provide adequate support.

After Vucic's address, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told state TV that borders will be open only “for Serbians, foreign diplomats, and foreign nationals with residence permits.”

The Balkan state has so far recorded 48 coronavirus infections. There have been no fatalities, but two patients are in a serious condition, health authorities say.


Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian ended his two-day self-isolation in Sevan and returned to the capital, Yerevan, after testing negative for the coronavirus for the second time.

Pashinian underwent another test for the potentially deadly infection after one of the individuals he had contact with during his trip to a southern Armenian province last week had tested positive.

“The answer to our tests is negative again. Coming back to Yerevan in the morning,” Pashinian wrote in a Facebook post on March 15, referring to the results of his test and the test of his wife, Anna Hakobian.

The couple decided to isolate themselves in a government villa at Lake Sevan late on March 13 and undergo coronavirus tests after local media raised concerns about Hakobian’s contacts with the wife of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a visit to that Latin American country on March 7.

An aide to Bolsonaro and another senior Brazilian government official tested positive for coronavirus, raising questions about the president's health. The Brazilian leader has since said he tested negative for the virus.


Amid the quarantine, Pashinian suspended his political campaigning ahead of next month’s constitutional referendum.

He said his government will discuss this week whether to move ahead with the national referendum scheduled for April 5 amid the spread of the virus.

He said his government will discuss this week whether to move ahead with the national referendum scheduled for April 5 amid the spread of the virus.

Armenians will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would lead to the dismissal of seven of the Constitutional Court’s nine members installed before nationwide protests swept Pashinian to power in 2018.

As of March 15, Armenia’s health authorities confirmed 28 cases in the country with more than half located in one region. They said the first patient hospitalized on March 1 had already recovered from the disease.

Armenia shut down the city of Vagharshapat in a bid to curb the spread of the virus, Pashinian said on March 15. Vasharshapat, also known as Echmiadzin, is located 21 kilometers to the west of the capital, Yerevan.

Vagharshapat, which has a population of 46,000 people, has accounted for more than half of the 28 registered coronavirus cases in Armenia. Pashinian said residents will be able to leave the city only after having their body temperature taken.


Afghanistan reported five new cases on March 15, bringing the total number of registered cases in the country to 16.

Officials in Kabul said that all of those infected are Afghans who have recently returned from neighboring Iran.

The officials said up to 15,000 Afghan migrants workers and refugees are returning from Iran on a daily basis.


Officials in Iran, which is battling one of the world's worst outbreaks, have warned that the county's health facilities could be overwhelmed if the current growth in new cases continues.

Iran had registered nearly 14,000 cases of coronavirus by March 15, up from about 1,000 at the start of the month.

Iran has the third-most registered cases after China and Italy. The nation's death toll reached 724 on March 15 as another 113 people died.

Kianush Jahanpur, Iran's Health Ministry spokesman, said in a televised news conference that citizens "should cancel all travel and stay at home" to halt the spread of the deadly virus.​


Pakistani President Arif Alvi is on an official visit to China on March 16-17 to hold meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and other top officials, Alvi’s office said in a statement on March 15.

The statement said the visit aims at “further solidifying historic bonds" between the two countries and described China and Pakistan as “the closest friends and staunch partners.”

It also pointed out that the visit comes as China is “engaged in efforts to contain” the spread of the new coronavirus, which has affected 157 countries and territories since it was first recorded in Wuhan, a city in central China.

It’s Alvi’s first official visit to China, a strategic partner and major investor to Pakistan’s economy.

Pakistan on March 16 announced 41 additional cases of infection with the coronavirus after 41 more cases were confirmed in the Sindh region, bringing the total tally to 94.

Dozens of people quarantined at the Pakistan-Iran border protested what they called the poor hygiene in the camps.

The quarantined include religious pilgrims who are now returning from Iran.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan and Armenian services, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, and AP, AFP, and Reuters
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