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Coronavirus fears grip Middle East as Iran denies cover-up

The Guardian reports:

Fears are growing across the Middle East that coronavirus has infiltrated a main pilgrimage route, which could lead the deadly pathogen to vulnerable refugee populations, causing perhaps unprecedented public health crises across the region.

Concern is centred on the Iranian shrine city of Qom, which is thought to be a hub of the disease and the likely source of its spread elsewhere in the country and in neighbouring states, where infected travellers have been diagnosed in recent days.

Shia Muslim pilgrims who travelled to Qom are thought to make up the majority of the so far small numbers of those infected, in Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon.

Adding to the fears that pilgrimage routes may have spread the disease was the diagnosis on Monday of an infected worshipper in Najaf, Iraq. Local health officials closed and disinfected the Imam Ali mosque after the case was confirmed, and public health experts warned of a pending emergency if the virus was not contained quickly .

“In Iraq, [coronavirus] poses a major public health threat because the Iraqi health system is very weak,” said Dr Adam Coutts, a specialist on public health in the Middle East at Cambridge University.

“It potentially could wipe out thousands of people. And there’s no way of tracking it once it gets into a refugee population, given the mobility. These viruses or diseases expose the politics and fragility of public health systems.”

Refugees and internally displaced populations across Iraq and Syria have been identified as the most vulnerable groups in the region, should the spread of the virus become a pandemic. Health officials in both countries remain under-equipped to deal with such a reality that seems more possible with each passing day. [Continue reading…]

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