Dubai - The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has suspended all flights to and from Iran, where the outbreak of the new coronavirus has already killed at least 15 people -- the highest death toll outside the disease's epicenter in China.
Fears of a coronavirus pandemic grew this week after sharp rises in new cases in Iran, Italy, and South Korea. The virus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing around 2,700 deaths, mainly in China.
A spokesman for Iran's Health Ministry told state television on February 25 that three more people infected with the new virus died in the country amid 95 confirmed cases.
"It will be safer for people to stay at home. There were 34 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, including 16 people in Qom city," said the spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour.
Qom is a popular place of religious study for Shi'a from across Iran and other countries that is 120 kilometers south of Tehran.
A media adviser to the health minister later announced that Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi had been infected.
"The coronavirus test for Mr. Harirchi...who was on the front lines combating the coronavirus, was positive," Alireza Vahabzadeh wrote in a tweet.
Meanwhile, the U.A.E. General Civil Aviation Authority "suspended all passenger flights and cargo to and from Iran starting today and for one week that can be renewed," a statement carried by the official WAM news agency.
The statement described the decision as a precautionary measure undertaken to ensure strict monitoring and prevention of the spread of the virus.
The U.A.E. has recorded 13 cases, with the latest two involving an Iranian tourist and his wife.
The Arab state is Iran's biggest trading partner in the Persian Gulf. Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, is a major transit point for passengers travelling to and from Iran.
On February 24, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman reported their first cases of the coronavirus -- all involving people who had come from Iran.
The Iraqi government extended an entry ban on travelers coming directly or indirectly from China and Iran and banned those from five other countries over coronavirus fears.
Oman's Khasab port is suspending the import and export of goods to and from Iran from February 26 because of the outbreak, operator Marafi said on Twitter.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters