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Iraq and Oman curb travel with China amid deadly coronavirus epidemic

Morocco and Saudi Arabia have successfully repatriated nationals from mainland China
On Sunday, Morocco repatriated 167 nationals from Wuhan, where the outbreak began (AFP)

Iraq, Oman and a Saudi Arabian carrier on Sunday announced travel curbs to China in reaction to the coronavirus epidemic, as countries across the region continued to take precautions to stem the spread of the deadly virus and stepped up efforts to repatriate nationals.

Oman and the state airline of Saudi Arabia, Saudia, both suspended flights to China while Iraq said it would not allow foreign visitors travelling from China to enter the country.

In an online statement, Iraq’s interior ministry said the step was "part of the protective measures taken by countries around the world to combat the new coronavirus, and out of a commitment to protect its citizens from its disastrous effects and negative consequences for public health and safety". 

Hundreds of Chinese nationals work on lucrative oil fields across the country, the result of China’s petroleum investments in what is OPEC’s second-largest crude oil producer.  On Saturday, authorities in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, denied entry to three Chinese nationals over the virus.

As of Sunday, the coronavirus has claimed the lives of more than 300 people, with another 14,300 infected across 25 countries, including the United Arab Emirates where four cases were diagnosed on Wednesday. 

The death of a man in the Philippines from the virus on Sunday was the first recorded death outside of China.

The World Health Organisation last week declared a global health emergency, as China continues to face mounting isolation from international travel curbs and flight suspensions.

On Saturday, state-owned Qatar Airways announced that flights to mainland China would be suspended from Monday.

It said it was encountering "significant operation challenges caused by entry restrictions imposed by several countries", following the coronavirus outbreak in China.

The Chinese embassy in Mauritania has asked its recent arrivals to the West African country to remain indoors for two weeks.

Saudi Arabia evacuated 10 students from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began, Saudi state television reported on Sunday.

Morocco repatriated on Sunday 167 nationals from Wuhan and placed them in quarantine where they will stay for 20 days under medical supervision. 

Last week Iraq’s foreign ministry told AFP authorities were working to repatriate up to 50 Iraqi nationals from the city, while Turkish authorities said they were in the process of repatriating 32 citizens.

OPEC is set to meet early this week in Vienna to assess the impact of the outbreak on oil demand.