The outbreak in Iran is spreading throughout the region. Cases in Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates trace back to Iran. A health ministry official believes the virus may have spread through Chinese workers building a solar-power plant in Qom.
As of Wednesday, Iran’s government said the country had 95 cases of infection—including the deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi—and 16 fatalities. But an official from Qom, the epicenter of the outbreak, claimed 50 people died in the city. The central government rejected that figure.
Hundreds of Muslim pilgrims from all over the region visit a holy shrine in Qom each week, increasing the likelihood that the virus could quickly spread throughout countries in the Middle East that lack the medical infrastructure to fight it. Neighboring Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Armenia have closed their borders with Iran.
Authorities have closed schools and universities, including some religious schools. Some have called for the closure of the shrine in Qom, but some senior clerics pushed back on the idea, according to Financial Times. Others also fear Iran’s healthcare system won’t be able to deal with the coronavirus outbreak due to a lack of diagnostic equipment amid U.S. sanctions.
In Europe, cases are spreading from an outbreak in Italy, where all but three of 322 people infected tested positive since last Friday. The outbreak centers around the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto, where the governments of several cities and towns placed about 100,000 people in quarantine. Venice canceled the last two days of its annual carnival.
The first three cases were all people who came to Italy from China, but public health officials are struggling to find the cause of the latest outbreak: None of those people have been to China or been in contact with anyone who had. “We are (now) even more worried because if we cannot find ‘patient zero’ then it means the virus is even more ubiquitous than we thought,” Luca Zaia, governor of Veneto, told reporters.
Austria, Croatia, Switzerland, Brazil, and Algeria all announced their first cases of the coronavirus linked to Italy, but neighboring countries have not yet closed its borders.
Poland, the Mayo Clinic doctor, believes the Diamond Princess’s quarantine created the worse possible situation as officials “holed up a bunch of healthy people with a few sick people under inadequate conditions.” He pointed out cruise ships are not ideal for quarantines because of ventilation systems and untrained staff.
“It’s no surprise that when you put people in a petri dish that this is going to happen,” Poland said. “It was a terrible decision made with the best of intentions, but unfortunately people’s health and politics are not a good mix.”
Instead of keeping everyone one the same ship, Poland said he would have isolated the sick in one area while quarantining the rest in another.
When Fehrenbacher and the other 327 Americans finally stepped off the Diamond Princess on Monday, Feb.17, their journey was far from over. The buses taking them to the airport idled for hours while Unites States officials at the State Department and the CDC debated what to do with 14 passengers who had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Washington Post.
They decided to bring them home, although no one told passengers that infected people sick sat among them. After the plane touched down in California, Fehrenbacher said a man in a hazmat suit asked the couple seated behind him to stay on the plane. He later realized they tested had positive and needed treatment. Fehrenbacher again felt betrayed, losing hope that the officials had the situation under control.
“There were a couple days that this wall of optimism came crashing down and I felt scared and vulnerable,” Fehrenbacher said. “But … there were hundreds of people who were sending messages saying, ‘We’re praying for you’… and it helped me know God was there in the midst of something I couldn’t really comprehend.”