Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia condemns Iran's handling of crisis

Riyadh reaffirms travel ban after saying Iran is directly responsible in increasing infections

Saudi Arabia reaffirmed a ban on citizens and residents travelling to Iran after slamming Tehran's handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Riyadh accused Iran on Thursday of not stamping the passports of five people who have since tested positive for Covid-19 when they travelled through the country, allowing them to go undetected when they returned to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government warned there would be “severe penalties” for anyone who violates the travel order.

Global coronavirus cases passed 100,000 on Friday afternoon as governments around the world scramble to implement and monitor containment measures. Iran on Friday announced the country has 4,747 cases with 124 deaths. The majority of coronavirus cases in the Middle East are among those returning from Iran.

“These actions are a proof of Iran’s direct responsibility in increasing Covid-19 infections,” a government official told the state news agency SPA. “This behaviour poses a serious public health threat to the international community and undermines international efforts to combat Covid-19, putting many communities around the world at risk.”

Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, the five people did not disclose that they had recently been in Iran.


“Whoever has travelled to Iran in the past weeks must disclose this information to authorities and the ministry of health,” said a tweet from the government’s ministry of foreign affairs.

The government added that any Saudi citizens currently in Iran must evacuate within 48 hours and called upon Iranian officials to disclose the identities of any citizens who had “illegally” visited the country.

The row comes as the head of the World Health Organisation warned countries to be serious about the outbreak.

“This is not a drill,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO. “This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops. Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades. Now is the time to act on those plans.

"This epidemic is a threat for every country, rich and poor."


Another diplomatic row unfolded in Asia on Friday as Seoul protested against Japan's decision to impose a two-week quarantine for visitors from South Korea, calling it "unreasonable, excessive and extremely regrettable". Seoul's foreign ministry said they would summon the Japanese ambassador to lodge a formal complaint.

The crisis continues to affect the business world. Asian shares and US stock futures tumbled on Friday as the number of coronavirus cases continued to rise.

The S&P 500 fell 3.39 per cent. The index has skidded more than 10 per cent from its February 19 closing high, and last week saw its biggest weekly percentage decline since October 2008. The Dow was down 3.58 per cent and the Nasdaq 3.10 per cent.

The drop continued in Asia in morning trading on Friday. Japan’s Nikkei stock index closed down 2.72 per cent lower on Friday, a six-month low. Shares in China fell 1.22 per cent, while stocks in Hong Kong fell 2.12 per cent.

In the US, the number of coronavirus cases in New York state doubled in a single day, prompting US congress to approve an $8.3 billion (30B dirham) emergency budget to help fight the respiratory virus that has killed 14 people in the country.

The move comes after years of US President Donald Trump slashing funding to federal public health programmes.

Meanwhile, business hubs such as Hong Kong and Beijing are testing the limits of remote working as their economies adapt to an increasing number of people putting themselves in precautionary isolation.

At least 3,400 deaths have been reported in 34 countries. The Vatican, Cameroon, Slovakia, Serbia and Bhutan all reported their first cases of the virus on Friday, while the Netherlands and UK reported their first deaths.

In the UAE, the number of cases reached 29 after a 17-year-old Emirati pupil was diagnosed on Thursday.