This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iran says the COVID-19 illness has killed 129 more people, a single-day record high for one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
During a televised news conference on March 16, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur appealed to the public to drastically curb outings, especially intercity trips.
“Our plea is that everyone take this virus seriously and in no way attempts to travel to any province,” Jahanpur said.
The deaths bring the overall toll to 853 fatalities since February 19, when the government announced Iran’s first two deaths from the COVID-19 disease sparked by the coronavirus.
Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, a 78-year-old member of the Assembly of Experts, which is empowered with selecting the country’s supreme leader, is the latest of several Iranian officials to have died, local media reported.
Jahanpour also reported 1,053 confirmed new cases of infection in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 14,991.
Iran has the third-most registered cases after China and Italy.
Tehran Province had the highest number of new infections with 200 cases, about 50 fewer than the day before.
The central province of Isfahan followed with 118 cases, with Mazandaran in the north of Tehran coming next with 96.
The holy city of Qom in central Iran, where the virus was first reported, had 19 new cases that took its total to 1,023.
There are suspicions that the outbreak in the Islamic republic — whose government is known for its opaqueness and censorship — is far worse than authorities are admitting.
President Hassan Rohani on March 16 urged Iranians to stay home for the Norouz holiday celebrations on March 20 and to avoid traveling over the festive period.
Police are to begin checking the temperature of drivers, Rohani said, adding to a raft of measures that include the closure of schools, universities, and Iran’s most sacred site.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has canceled his annual Persian New Year’s speech in the city of Mashhad, planned for March 21.
Russia says it will ban the entry of foreign nationals and stateless people to May 1 in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The government said on March 16 that the ban, starting on March 18, won’t apply to diplomatic representatives and some other categories of people.
Russia has reported 93 cases of the virus so far, but no deaths.
Earlier in the day, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced new measures in the Russian capital, including prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people until April 10, and closing schools and universities from March 21 until April 12.
Sobyanin also asked elderly people to stay home.
A subsidiary of Russian Railways Rail said service between Russia and Ukraine, Moldova, and Latvia would be suspended as of March 17.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has criticized Russia’s “unnecessary” decision to close the border between the two countries in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“There must be no unnecessary moves that might complicate already uneasy relations between the two nations,” he said on March 16 during a meeting with officials in Minsk.
The Russian government said the restrictive measures against Belarus, announced earlier in the day, were “prompted by special circumstances and are absolutely temporary.”
Belarus has reported 36 cases of coronavirus so far, but no deaths. Russian authorities have confirmed 93 cases, and no deaths.
Belarus, heavily reliant on Russia for cheap oil, has been at odds with Moscow over oil prices for months. The dispute is part of wider political discord between the two countries over forming a union state.
Instead of closing the Russian-Belarusian border, Lukashenka said, “our dearly beloved” Russia should help Belarus beef up security against coronavirus at its border with Poland, which he called “our common union-state border.”
The Belarusian leader also said he would talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone soon.
Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, has faced growing pressure from Moscow in recent years to agree to deeper integration under a 1999 unification agreement, which envisaged close political, economic, and military ties but stopped short of forming a single country.
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.
Five more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Uzbekistan, bringing the total to six, the government’s Telegram channel dedicated to the disease said on March 16.
Four of the six individuals are members of one Uzbek family returning from France, the government said in a separate statement.
Uzbekistan early on March 15 had reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
The same day, neighboring Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency as authorities announced that three new cases had been recorded, pushing the total number there to nine.
Kazakhstan was thought to have been coronavirus-free until four infections were confirmed on March 13.
The state of emergency announced by presidential decree imposes a nationwide quarantine and will restrict both entry to and departure from the country to all except diplomats and individuals invited by the government.