Iraq closes border with Iran over coronavirus fears

Iraqi Airways suspends flights; Iranian officials call for closure of religious centers in Qom where two deaths have been reported

An Iranian street vendor sells protective masks in the capital Tehran on February 20, 2020. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
An Iranian street vendor sells protective masks in the capital Tehran on February 20, 2020. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iraq banned Iranian nationals from entering the country and its own nationals from traveling to Iran on Thursday following an outbreak of the coronavirus in the Islamic Republic.

The decision came a day after Iran announced two deaths in the town of Qoms, an important religious center some 140 kilometers south of Tehran, and amid unconfirmed reports that several other people had died from the respiratory illness.

“Iranians are prohibited from entering,” a senior official told AFP, adding that border crossings with Iran are now closed, allowing only Iraqis returning to the country to pass.

Returning Iraqis will be examined and, if necessary, placed “in quarantine for 14 days,” the Iraqi Health Ministry said.

Iraqi Airways said that it had suspended flight service to Iran.

Armenia also said that it was tightening controls along its border with Iran.

The Iranian Students News Agency said health officials had called for religious gatherings in Qom to be suspended.

Millions of Iranian pilgrims visit the Shiite holy places of Iraq every year, religious tourism that provides the country with significant income.

Iranians go to the polls in parliamentary elections Friday.

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