April 24 (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday that it would bar travellers from India over a COVID-19 variant to avert its spread in the already stricken country.
Officials, however, did not say if any cases of the variant first identified in India in late March had been detected in Iran, the epicentre of the pandemic in the Middle East.
“The Indian coronavirus is a new threat we face,” President Hassan Rouhani said in remarks broadcast on state TV.
“The Indian virus is more dangerous than the English and Brazilian variants,” he added.
“All the eastern provinces should make sure people infected with the virus do not cross the borders into the country,” Rouhani said. Iran’s eastern provinces border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Visitors can also travel Iran by way of the Gulf.
Iran’s civil aviation organisation announced on local media that all flights to and from India and Pakistan would be halted from midnight Sunday.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki has asked the interior minister to “halt the direct and indirect transport of travellers from India”, Iranian media reported.
Most of Iran, whose coronavirus cases have surpassed 2 million, has been under a lockdown for the past two weeks as it grapples with a fourth wave of the pandemic.
The health ministry has reported a daily average of over 20,000 infections. Nearly 70,000 have died.
The country’s vaccination drive, meanwhile, has been slow going. ([email protected])