CAIRO, March 14 (Xinhua) -- The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday hailed Iranian government's efforts to combat the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of 611 people in the Islamic republic.
During a visit to Iran, the worst-hit country by the epidemic in the Middle East, WHO Emergency Director for the Regional Office Richard Brennan praised the "comprehensive and coordinated approach" implemented by the Iranian government, especially in the areas of patient management, laboratories, and risk communication.
On Saturday, Iran's Ministry of Health and Medical Education announced that 12,729 Iranians have so far been infected with the viral respiratory disease, of whom 611 have died and 4,339 have recovered.
Iran's fight against the raging epidemic has been hindered by the U.S. sanctions which have caused severe shortage of medical supplies. Tehran has repeatedly called for lifting what it called the "inhuman" sanctions imposed by the United States, which has so far turned a deaf ear to Iran's calls.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday that President Hassan Rouhani has sent letters to his counterparts around the world, urging them to stop following the U.S. sanctions against Iran.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia announced 24 new COVID-19 cases, bringing to 86 the total number of confirmed cases. The kingdom's health ministry also urged all citizens to follow the anti-coronavirus measures to prevent infection.
The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority also announced a 13.3 -billion-U.S.-dollar program to cushion the private sector from the impact of the epidemic.
In Cairo, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said the total number of COVID-19 cases in Egypt soared to 109, after 16 more were confirmed on Saturday.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi decided to suspend school and university classes for two weeks starting Sunday, over concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Sisi also allocated 100 billion Egyptian pounds (6.36 billion U.S. dollars) to finance the anti-COVID-19 fight.
In Israel, 35 more people tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 178, two of whom are in serious condition.
In Palestine, three new cases of COVID-19 infection were reported, all from the West Bank city of Bethlehem, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 38.
Speaking at a special cabinet meeting, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Ishtaye said Palestine was the first to follow China's example by taking timely measures to fight the deadly disease, and has been successful in controlling it thus far.
Ibrahim Melhem, spokesman of the Palestinian Authority, said Palestine follows in China's steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has largely been controlled by China about two months after its outbreak.
"The full cooperation between the Chinese government and its people and securing food that was sufficient for two weeks have all contributed to limiting the spread of the virus," Melhem said.
In Algiers, Algerian Health Ministry announced the third death from COVID-19 infection, as well as 10 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 37. The third victim is a 51-year-old woman living in the province of Blida.
In Kuwait, the Health Ministry reported four new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 104. The four patients included three Kuwaitis and one Indian national.
Kuwaiti Minister of Health Bassel Al-Sabah announced that two coronavirus patients recovered, bringing the total number of the cured in the country to seven.
In Beirut, Lebanon's Health Ministry announced that the country's total confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased to 93. Lebanon informed Syria that it will close its land borders with Syria starting Monday as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In Rabat, Moroccan Ministry of Health announced nine new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 17. Moroccan Minister of Equipment, Transport, Logistics and Water Abdelkader Amara, who just returned from Europe, was in self-isolation at home after testing positive for COVID-19.
To contain the spread of the virus, Morocco took new measures, including a ban on mass gatherings of more than 50 people. A ban on flights was extended to Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal, in addition to Italy, France, Spain and Algeria.
In Tunis, Tunisian Health Ministry announced two new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 18.
Oman on Saturday announced one-month suspension of all schools and universities starting Sunday amid concerns over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Jordan, which has only reported one COVID-19 case who has recovered, also decided to suspend all schools, universities and educational institutions for two weeks starting Sunday.
All flights from and to Jordan will be suspended from March 17 until further notice. All sea and land borders are closed except for commercial movement and shipping, while gatherings and large events, including prayers at mosques and churches, are also banned.
In Syria, one of the only two countries in the Middle East that are reportedly unaffected by COVID-19, President Bashar al-Assad ordered the postponement of the parliamentary elections from April 13 to May 20 to prevent the spread of the virus.
In Yemen, another country reportedly free of any COVID-19 case, the internationally-recognized government decided to suspend all flights to and from Yemeni airports for two weeks, starting Wednesday. The flights for humanitarian purposes and relief aid will be excluded from the ban.
The Yemeni government also ordered the temporary closure of the country's border crossings, with exception for the commercial, relief and humanitarian shipping traffic.
Meanwhile, the Houthi militia that controls northern Yemen announced the suspension of international flights for two weeks, while deciding to end the school year this month, ahead of schedule, in the cities under its control.