Turkey says will 'temporarily' close Iran border over virus fears

AFP Istanbul, Turkey Feb 23, 2020, 07.00 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

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Iran confirmed eight deaths from the novel coronavirus on Sunday, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.

Turkey on Sunday announced it would "temporarily" close its land border with neighbouring Iran as alarm grows over a spike in new coronavirus infections.

"We have decided to shut the land border temporarily after an increase in the number of cases in our neighbour Iran," Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told reporters. He said air traffic would be unilaterally halted from 2000 (1700 GMT). 

Iran confirmed eight deaths from the novel coronavirus on Sunday, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.

The final results of the parliamentary election are due on Sunday, two days after it was held on the heels of the confirmation of novel coronavirus cases in the country.

Also read: Iran says 43 infected with coronavirus, eight dead - Official

A low turnout had been widely forecast, as a conservative-dominated electoral watchdog disqualified about half the 16,000-odd candidates, mostly moderates and reformists.

Voter apathy marked the polls, but Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday lauded the people's "huge participation" despite what he termed "this negative propaganda".

It "began a few months ago and grew larger approaching the election and in the past two days, under the pretext of this illness," he said, according to a televised extract of his speech.

Also read: Coronavirus is China's 'biggest health emergency' - President Xi Jinping

"Their media did not miss the slightest opportunity to discourage people from voting. (Our enemies) are even opposed to any election by the Iranian people," the leader was quoted as saying on his official website.

The latest three deaths Iran reported on Sunday were among 15 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the overall number of infections to 43 and fatalities to eight -- the highest death toll outside of China, the epicentre of the epidemic. 

Four new infections surfaced in the capital Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.

Authorities have ordered as a "preventive measure" the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 provinces across Iran from Sunday.

Also read: South Korea raises alert to highest level as coronavirus cases jump

They include Tehran and Qom, where the first cases emerged, as well as Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan and Kurdistan.

Art events, concerts and film shows have been banned for a week.

"We are on the frontlines, we need help," the head of Qom's medical sciences university, Mohammadreza Ghadir, said on state television.

"If I can say one thing, it is help Qom."

Iran's neighbours have started to take precautions against the spread of the virus. 

The Kuwait Port Authority on Sunday announced a ban on the entry of all ships from the Islamic republic.