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COVID-19: Kosovo, Kazakhstan Confirm First Cases; Ukraine Reports First Death; Iran To Empty Streets

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Authorities in Kosovo have announced the first two cases of novel-coronavirus infection to hit Europe’s newest independent state just as global health experts say the continent has become COVID-19’s new “epicenter.”

Kosovar Health Minister Arben Vitia said one of those who tested positive for the virus that causes the potentially deadly, pneumonia-like COVID-19 illness is a 77-year-old Kosovar man and the other is a 20-year-old Italian woman.

Both are reportedly in stable condition.

Vitia told a news conference attended by Prime MInister Albin Kurti that both patients are at a Pristina-area clinical center.

The former Yugoslav republics of the Western Balkans have mostly shown relatively low levels of infection despite their proximity to Italy, which has been early European hub of the new coronavirus.

After a day that saw the first confirmation of coronavirus cases in Ukraine, Kosovo’s neighbor Montenegro is the lone European country that has not reported any COVID-19 cases.

World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on March 13 that COVID-19 deaths had surpassed 5,000 and that “Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic” that began late last year in central China.

Ukraine

Ukraine has reported its first novel coronavirus death. Authorities said on March 13 that an elderly woman died after being hospitalized a day earlier in a western region of the country, prompting security officials to announce a border closure to foreigners within two days.

Later, the speaker of the country’s parliament said authorities would be shutting down all air traffic after March 16.

Officials were also said to be shutting down most of Ukraine’s 200-plus border crossings, which could deal a blow to the 2 million or so Ukrainians who work as migrant labor elsewhere in Europe.

Ukraine has announced three confirmed cases of infection by the new coronavirus.

The 71-year-old woman who died of the resulting COVID-19 illness, a resident of the town of Radomyshl in the Zhytomyr region, had reportedly felt unwell after returning from Poland on March 1 but did not initially seek medical care.

Ukrainian authorities said the borders would be closed to foreigners for two weeks but Ukrainian nationals would be allowed back into the country.

“In 48 hours, our country will close the border to foreigners,” Oleksandr Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said.

State media said Ukrainian citizens who have been to any country with an acute outbreak of the virus will be allowed to enter but must comply with special observation procedures.

The Healthy Ministry said the woman who died was hospitalized on March 12 after her COVID-19 test came back positive.

Her case was the third confirmed coronavirus infection in the country.

Iran

Iranian security forces have been ordered to clear the streets across the country within 24 hours as the government struggles to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the armed forces chief of staff, made the announcement on March 13, saying in televised remarks: “Our law enforcement and security committees, along with the Interior Ministry and provincial governors, will be clearing shops, streets and roads.”

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced another 85 deaths from the virus, pushing the total number of fatalities in the country to 514.

Iran, one of the countries most-affected by the pandemic outside of China, reported a total of 11,364 diagnosed infections as of March 13.

Critics fear the real number of cases, however, could be much higher as questions swirl over the government’s transparency with regard to the issue.

Clerical rulers have already closed schools and universities and suspended religious, cultural, and sports events across the country to combat the outbreak.

On March 12, Tehran said it was seeking a $5-billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help finance the country’s efforts to fight the contagion.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump on March 12 to immediately lift sanctions over the country’s nuclear program. He said they made it difficult to import medicine and medical equipment.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s Health Ministry says it has recorded the Central Asian nation’s first four confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus.

Health Minister Elzhan Birtanov said in a statement on March 13 that a Kazakh woman who returned to Nur-Sultan from Italy had tested positive for the virus.

The statement came just hours after Birtanov had announced the country’s first two positive cases, a woman and a man who returned to Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, from Germany. Both are Kazakh nationals.

A fourth case was announced hours later.

Earlier in the day, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev held a meeting with government members and a coronavirus task force after which he suspended trips abroad for officials due to the coronavirus alert.

“Trips abroad for state and other officials will be banned. Only trips aimed to ensure the security of our citizens and the country will be allowed,” Toqaev’s official website said.

Toqaev also ordered the cabinet to provide financial support to companies and organizations to help them cover paid leaves of their employees who have to stay at home with their children as early spring break at schools was announced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The president called on state and government entities to focus on public relations with citizens to prevent panic associated with rumors about the spreading of the virus.

RFE/RL correspondents reported from Almaty that local residents have stormed grocery stores and other shops buying food and other items en masse in recent days.

Also on March 13, Toqaev wrote on Twitter that his country “faces the task of keeping the economy in a sustainable development mode in a completely new reality,” while in another tweet, he said his government “will fulfill all of its social obligations.”

At the meeting with cabinet officials and the coronavirus task force, Toqaev ordered the government to allocate 300 billion tenges ($740 million) to create more jobs via infrastructure maintenance projects in the oil-rich former Soviet republic.

Kazakhstan’s national currency, the tenge, plunged to all-time lows in recent days following the abrupt fall in oil prices and chaos in the world’s stock markets caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria’s parliament has voted unanimously to declare a monthlong national state of emergency to help stem the spread of the coronavirus in the southeastern European nation.

“We are showing people that we are thinking about them at a difficult time,” Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said after the March 13 vote, which came as the Bulgarian Football Union suspended all soccer matches for one month.

The state of emergency allows the imposition of measures such as travel bans to and from countries with large coronavirus outbreaks and the closing of schools and universities.

Police will also be permitted to intervene when the imposed isolation of infected people is not observed.

Earlier this week, the Balkan country confirmed its first death of a patient who had the virus, while the number of confirmed cases jumped to 23.

On March 12, Borisov said “legal considerations” should be put into place to set penalties for noncompliance by those ordered into quarantine, asserting that 14 people who were supposed to be under quarantine did not observe the procedures.

“In some countries, the penalties are up to seven years in prison…. Let’s not get there, but a fine of 5,000 leva ($2,857) should be considered,” he told the Council of Ministers.

He also told the council that “discos, bars, and nightclubs — where people sweat and hug — should be closed immediately,” but no decision regarding such establishments or restaurants was immediately taken.

Bulgaria has already limited indoor gatherings to 250 people, and the government has urged businesses to be flexible and allow employees to work remotely if possible.

Russia

A lawmaker in the Russian Duma and other deputies who had contact with him were ordered into self-quarantine on March 12 after it was discovered that he had been to France.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin had Liberal Democratic Party of Russia lawmaker Sergei Katasonov’s parliamentary entry badge taken away and Katasonov was told to isolate himself for 14 days.

“Let the quarantine pass. With regard to aides with whom he had contact — there should be the same decisions, and, colleagues in the faction, be sympathetic. Here is the row where our colleague was located, and the row in front and behind is under quarantine, ” Volodin said.

Russia on March 12 reported six new cases of coronavirus infection, including four in Moscow, one in Kaliningrad, and one in the Krasnodar region. Altogether, Russia has 34 registered cases. No deaths related to COVID-19 have been recorded in the country.

The virus has infected 2,876 people in France, of whom 61 have died, making it the country’s worst health crisis in a century, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address to the nation the same day.

On March 5, Russia started heightened prevention measures and everyone who has been to some of the hardest-hit countries with the coronavirus like China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, France, Germany, and Spain, have been told to self-isolate themselves for 14 days.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11 deemed the new coronavirus a global pandemic and urged countries to take aggressive measures to prevent the outbreak from worsening.

Some 125,000 people have been infected worldwide and about 4,600 have died — most of them in China but with numbers now rising elsewhere.

Some 68,000 have recovered from the virus, which is generally only fatal for elderly people and those with preexisting health problems.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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