Iraq bans public gatherings on coronavirus fear; travel ban totals nine countries

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq on Wednesday banned public gatherings and barred entry by travelers from Kuwait and Bahrain because of the spread of the new coronavirus, prohibiting travel to or from a total of nine countries.

Health Minister Jaafar Allawi said in a decree that Iraqi citizens were now not allowed to travel to China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

Iraqis traveling from the nine countries and diplomats were exempt from the entry ban but would be subject to tests, Allawi said.

Allawi also ordered the suspension of schools and universities and the closure of cinemas, cafes, clubs, and other public gathering spots nationwide from Feb. 27 to March 7.

It was not immediately clear whether anti-government protesters gathered in Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square and other protest sites across southern Iraq would heed the ban. Nearly 500 people have been killed since Oct. 1 with protesters demanding the ouster of what they see as a corrupt ruling elite and an end to foreign interference mainly by Iran and the United States.

Iraq is concerned about the spread of the coronavirus from neighboring Iran, which has been hit by what appeared to be the worst outbreak outside of China. Iraq has cultural and religious ties with Iran and annually receives millions of Iranian pilgrims.

An Iraqi family of four who returned from Iran tested positive for the coronavirus in Kirkuk province on Tuesday. They were the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease, a day after an Iranian student in Najaf became Iraq’s first confirmed case. He was later transferred to Iran.

“All gatherings in public places, for any reason, are banned, and the relevant authorities must take all measures to enforce this,” said Allawi.

Coronavirus is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.

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