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Coronavirus: Bahrain accuses Iran of 'biological aggression' 

Kingdom accuses Iran of covering up the spread of the coronavirus and failing to stamp Bahraini travellers' passports
Doctors south of Manama call on a traveller who returned from Iran at their residency, to check if they are infected with the virus (Reuters)

Bahrain accused Iran on Thursday of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the coronavirus and failing to stamp Bahraini travellers’ passports.

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Many of the recorded infections throughout the Gulf region are linked to travel to Iran, which hosts several important shrines and pilgrimage sites for Shia Muslims.

Bahrain's health ministry said on Wednesday that 77 new coronavirus cases have been recorded among citizens evacuated from Iran by plane this week.

The new cases brought the total number of coronavirus cases recorded by Bahraini health authorities to date to 189, 30 of whom have recovered.

“With this behaviour, Iran has allowed the disease to travel abroad, and in my estimation this constitutes a form of biological aggression that is criminalised by international law, as it has put in danger our safety and health and that of others,” Bahraini Interior Minister General Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa said on Twitter on Thursday.

In an apparent response, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, special aide to Iran’s parliamentary speaker, tweeted: “America, which rules Bahrain through the presence of its Fifth Fleet, is a major cause of biological warfare and initially denied the existence of coronavirus.”

Jail and fines

Saudi Arabia, which has a minority Shia population and had already made it a crime to travel to Iran, last week denounced its regional rival for granting Saudi citizens entry.

Bahrain, where Shias make up a majority of the population, has no such restrictions.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi has denied that not stamping passports has anything to do with coronavirus and called on Riyadh to avoid politicising the epidemic, Reuters reported.

Bahrain has said non-compliance with isolation measures would be punishable by up to three months in jail and a fine of up to 10,000 Bahraini dinars ($32,000).

Three people have already been reported to the public prosecutor, state news agency BNA said.

Prisoner release

Meanwhile, Bahrain ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners on Thursday, in one of the biggest pardons since the 2011 uprising against the monarchy, according to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), which linked the decision to efforts to contain the virus.

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King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa issued a decree granting pardon for 901 prisoners. 

A further 585 prisoners will spend the remainder of their sentences in rehabilitation and training programmes, the state-run Bahrain news agency reported.

Dozens more cases of coronavirus have been registered in the Gulf Arab states over the past 24 hours. Saudi Arabia reported 17 additional cases taking its total to 62.

More than 700 infections have been reported on Friday in the six-nation Arab Cooperation Council. 

No deaths in any Gulf states have been announced so far.

Iran has reported 514 deaths and a total of 11,364 cases on Thursday. Qatar has 262 cases and the United Arab Emirates 85.

In the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, Etihad Airways announced the suspension of flights to and from Rome and Milan on Friday, from 14 March. 

The death toll in Italy has passed 1,000, in Europe's deadliest outbreak.