Iran closes Iraq border points to stem spread of coronavirus variant

Dubai (Reuters) – Iran closed several crossing points with Iraq on Saturday in an effort to stem the spread of a mutant variant of coronavirus which the Iranian health minister said was entering from the neighbouring country.

Crossing points to Iraq from Khuzestan province as well as the nearby provinces of Ilam and Kermanshah were being closed to travellers, Saeed Namaki told state TV.

Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, faces a surge of new infections as 11 cities and towns in its southwestern Khuzestan province were declared high-risk “red” zones, state media reported.

Iraq’s health minister said on Monday that the new variant first found in Britain had been detected in the country which has been recording a sharp rise in infections.

“The main source of infection … with the British coronavirus in Khuzestan province were travellers who came from Iraq, and for this reason we have closed the borders of this province until further notice,” Namaki said.

Last week, Namaki reported Iran’s first three deaths from the new virus variant and warned that it was spreading and soon “may be found in any city, village or family” in a fourth wave of infections.

Iran’s health ministry on Saturday reported 7,922 new cases of coronavirus and 68 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the total death toll to 59,409, with 1,566,081 registered cases.

State broadcaster IRIB said goods transports were not affected by the passenger terminal closure at the main border crossing of Shalamcheh near Iraq’s southern city of Basra.