A roundup of the latest news on the coronavirus crisis in RFE/RL’s broadcast countries:
Iran says the COVID-19 illness has killed 129 more people, a single-day record high for one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
During a televised news conference on March 16, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur appealed to the public to drastically curb outings, especially intercity trips.
“Our plea is that everyone take this virus seriously and in no way attempts to travel to any province,” Jahanpur said.
The deaths bring the overall toll to 853 fatalities since February 19, when the government announced Iran’s first two deaths from the COVID-19 disease sparked by the coronavirus.
Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, a 78-year-old member of the Assembly of Experts, which is empowered with selecting the country’s supreme leader, is the latest of several Iranian officials to have died, local media reported.
Jahanpour also reported 1,053 confirmed new cases of infection in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 14,991.
Iran has the third-most registered cases after China and Italy.
Tehran Province had the highest number of new infections with 200 cases, about 50 fewer than the day before.
The central province of Isfahan followed with 118 cases, with Mazandaran in the north of Tehran coming next with 96.
The holy city of Qom in central Iran, where the virus was first reported, had 19 new cases that took its total to 1,023.
There are suspicions that the outbreak in the Islamic republic — whose government is known for its opaqueness and censorship — is far worse than authorities are admitting.
President Hassan Rohani on March 16 urged Iranians to stay home for the Norouz holiday celebrations on March 20 and to avoid traveling over the festive period.
Police are to begin checking the temperature of drivers, Rohani said, adding to a raft of measures that include the closure of schools, universities, and Iran’s most sacred site.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has canceled his annual Persian New Year’s speech in the city of Mashhad, planned for March 21.
Russia says it will ban the entry of foreign nationals and stateless people to May 1 in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The government said on March 16 that the ban, starting on March 18, won’t apply to diplomatic representatives and some other categories of people.
Russia has reported 93 cases of the virus so far, but no deaths.
Earlier in the day, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced new measures in the Russian capital, including prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people until April 10, and closing schools and universities from March 21 until April 12.
Sobyanin also asked elderly people to stay home.
A subsidiary of Russian Railways Rail said service between Russia and Ukraine, Moldova, and Latvia would be suspended as of March 17.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has criticized Russia’s “unnecessary” decision to close the border between the two countries in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“There must be no unnecessary moves that might complicate already uneasy relations between the two nations,” he said on March 16 during a meeting with officials in Minsk.
The Russian government said the restrictive measures against Belarus, announced earlier in the day, were “prompted by special circumstances and are absolutely temporary.”
Belarus has reported 36 cases of coronavirus so far, but no deaths. Russian authorities have confirmed 93 cases, and no deaths.
Belarus, heavily reliant on Russia for cheap oil, has been at odds with Moscow over oil prices for months. The dispute is part of wider political discord between the two countries over forming a union state.
Instead of closing the Russian-Belarusian border, Lukashenka said, “our dearly beloved” Russia should help Belarus beef up security against coronavirus at its border with Poland, which he called “our common union-state border.”
The Belarusian leader also said he would talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone soon.
Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, has faced growing pressure from Moscow in recent years to agree to deeper integration under a 1999 unification agreement, which envisaged close political, economic, and military ties but stopped short of forming a single country.
Serbian election authorities have delayed general elections scheduled for April 26 until after the end of a state of emergency imposed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Republican Election Commission said it decided to “temporarily suspend the elections process during the state of emergency triggered by the coronavirus outbreak,” in a statement on March 16.
Preparations for the elections will be resumed after the state of emergency is revoked, according to commission Chairman Vladimir Dimitrijevic.
The Balkan state has so far recorded 57 coronavirus infections. There have been no fatalities, but two patients are in serious condition, health authorities say.
Serbia declared a state of emergency on March 15 in a bid to prevent the rapid spreading of the epidemic, shutting down schools and universities.
In announcing the decision, President Aleksandar Vucic said in a televised address that from March 16 the military would be guarding state hospitals, while police will be monitoring those quarantined or in self-isolation for 14 or 28 days.
Those who violate quarantine may face jail terms of up to three years, he warned.
Serbia also announced it was closing its borders to foreigners coming from the worst-hit countries.
Vucic, however, said the border-entry ban did not apply to people from China, praising Beijing for helping Serbia amid the COVID-19 crisis.
He criticized the European Union for allegedly failing to provide adequate support.
After Vucic’s address, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told state TV that borders will be open only “for Serbians, foreign diplomats, and foreign nationals with residence permits.”
Five more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Uzbekistan, bringing the total to six, the government’s Telegram channel dedicated to the disease said on March 16.
Four of the six individuals are members of one Uzbek family returning from France, the government said in a separate statement.
Uzbekistan early on March 15 had reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
The same day, neighboring Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency as authorities announced that three new cases had been recorded, pushing the total number there to nine.
Kazakhstan was thought to have been coronavirus-free until four infections were confirmed on March 13.
The state of emergency announced by presidential decree imposes a nationwide quarantine and will restrict both entry to and departure from the country to all except diplomats and individuals invited by the government.
Kazakhstan had already announced the cancellation of Norouz holiday celebrations and a military parade devoted to the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.
Officials there previously said more than 1,000 people were in quarantine and nearly 500 others in self-quarantine at home.
Uzbekistan announced similar sweeping measures on March 15, barring entry for all foreigners and departures by locals.
The Uzbek government also closed schools and universities for three weeks, canceled all public events, and suspended international air and highway connections beginning March 16.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the only Central Asian republics to have officially registered any cases of the new coronavirus at the center of a global pandemic that as of early March 15 had infected more than 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800.
The Armenian government has declared a monthlong state of emergency to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
The National Assembly discussed the move for several hours, and none of the three parliamentary factions raised any objections or proposed any amendments.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian told lawmakers that Armenia would have to hold its referendum on constitutional reforms, originally planned for April 5, after the state of emergency ends.
“Under Armenian legislation, a referendum cannot take place during a state of emergency. The referendum will take place no sooner than 50 and no later than 65 days after the end of the state of emergency,” he said.
Armenia reported 17 new coronavirus cases on March 16, bringing the total number of cases to 45. One patient is said to have recovered, and more than 300 people remain in quarantine. There have been no recorded deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the country.
Armenia and Russia have agreed to suspend passenger flights between the two countries for two weeks in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Armenian government press service said on March 16.
The decision was made during a phone conversation between Pashinian and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Mishustin.
All Armenian educational institutions in the country are shut, while the borders with Iran – one of the countries hardest hit by the outbreak – and Georgia are closed.
Georgia will close its borders to foreign nationals for two weeks, starting on March 18.
Irakli Chikovani, the spokesman of the prime minister, said Georgian citizens who wish to return to the country will be able to do so, using Georgian Airways flights.
Georgia has registered 33 cases of the new coronavirus.
Afghanistan reported five new cases on March 15, bringing the total number of registered cases in the country to 16.
Officials in Kabul said that all of those infected are Afghans who have recently returned from neighboring Iran.
The officials said up to 15,000 Afghan migrants workers and refugees are returning from Iran on a daily basis.
Pakistani President Arif Alvi is on an official visit to China on March 16-17 to hold meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and other top officials, Alvi’s office said in a statement on March 15.
The statement said the visit aims at “further solidifying historic bonds” between the two countries and described China and Pakistan as “the closest friends and staunch partners.”
It also pointed out that the visit comes as China is “engaged in efforts to contain” the spread of the new coronavirus, which has affected 157 countries and territories since it was first recorded in Wuhan, a city in central China.
It’s Alv”s first official visit to China, a strategic partner and major investor to Pakistan’s economy.
Pakistan on March 16 announced 41 additional cases of infection with the coronavirus after 41 more cases were confirmed in the Sindh region, bringing the total tally to 94.
Dozens of people quarantined at the Pakistan-Iran border protested what they called the poor hygiene in the camps.
The quarantined include religious pilgrims who are now returning from Iran.
President Klaus Iohannis has declared a state of emergency for 30 days to fight the spread of the disease.
During the state of emergency, schools will be closed; prices for medicine, fuel, and utilities are frozen; road and air traffic could be banned; and borders may be closed if necessary.
Romania has 158 registered cases.
One Romanian citizen — a woman in her 80s — died last week in Italy from COVID-19, the illness sparked by the virus.
Bulgaria banned entry on its territory of citizens from 15 countries with large coronavirus outbreaks, including five EU member states, as of March 18, the Health Ministry said.
Exceptions will be made for citizens with permanent or long-term permits to stay in Bulgaria and their family members.