Fears of a coronavirus pandemic are growing in Azerbaijan as the number of pneumonia-like virus deaths in neighboring Iran has risen to 12 and 47 positive diagnoses.
According to Iranian RFL Radio Farda, 50 people have already died in Qom, the epicenter of the outbreak in Iran, but the figure is rejected by the authorities. Lawmakers have urged Tehran to quarantine the city.
In a joint statement released on 23 February, the Ministry of Health and the State Agency on Compulsory Health Insurance said that the virus has not yet been detected in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, the border with Iran has been restricted. “Only Iranian citizens in Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis in Iran are allowed to return to their countries,” Azerbaijan State Custom Committee was quoted as saying by Turan News Agency.
According to report.az, the Bilasuvar border gate between Iran and Azerbaijan has been shut.
According to a statement made by the Cabinet of Ministers on Monday, Baku is conducting entry checks at the country’s borders to screen for coronavirus.
Earlier on 28 January, the Cabinet of Ministers held a meeting on preventive measures against the infectious pandemic in the country. As a result, a working group was set up along with the Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies to prevent the outbreak.
Yet in an interview with RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service, professor Adil Geybulla said he did not think preventive measures on coronavirus had been sufficient in the country. “It is important to close the border crossings. But it’s not enough,” Geybulla stated, adding that closing the borders should not be seen as an offense against Iran. “It is part of quarantining, which tends to protect people from a virus.”
The professor also considers the outreach and organizational work in this area across the country unsatisfactory. According to Geybulla, if the World Health Organization (WHO) had registered this virus as a particularly dangerous pandemic, Azerbaijan would have to take the necessary action based on WHO advice.
Qom, the Iranian city where the virus recently broke out, is also known as a famous religious studies center for Shia Muslims from not only Iran but also Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijan State Committee for the Work with Religious Organizations has said companies visiting Iran are recommended to take into account the risk and “set some restrictions on the organization of tourist visits, even temporarily.”
According to the committee, these tourist companies are legally independent and cannot be banned in any way.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, most in Hubei. Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to about 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about two dozen, according to a Reuters tally.