Health Minister Saeed Namaki said Iran has temporarily halted all flights to and from China as the novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, spread across the East Asian country and the rest of the world.
Namaki said that no case of coronavirus infection has been reported in the country so far and added that the decision has been made in an emergency meeting in the presence of a number of Iranian ministers and the government spokesman after the virus was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO declared on Thursday that the coronavirus epidemic in China now constitutes a “public health emergency of international concern”.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, announced the decision after a meeting of its Emergency Committee, an independent panel of experts, amid mounting evidence of the virus spreading to some 18 countries.
Namaki further noted that he has sent a letter to Iran's First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri asking the government to adopt new strategies regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
It has been set that Iranian nationals residing in China would be able to return to the country via exclusive flights while being fully supervised by the Health Ministry, Namaki said.
He noted that some 70 uninfected Iranian university students, who are now in Wuhan, would be returned home in cooperation with Iran's Foreign Ministry.
"But these cases depend on the Chinese government's cooperation. These individuals will be kept in quarantine and supervision for two weeks," the health minister said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi called for global efforts to eradicate the new coronavirus.
“The #Coronavirus is a global tragedy which the whole world should cooperate with the Gov. & people of #China to get rid of it,” Mousavi said on his Twitter account late on Friday.
“I am convinced that the Chinese persistence & sense of responsibility will get them through this turbulent stage,” he added in his tweet.
Rising death toll
The number of deaths from a coronavirus epidemic in China has risen by 46 to 259, the country’s health authority said on Saturday.
The central province of Hubei, the center of the epidemic, is under a virtual quarantine, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down. Elsewhere in China, authorities have placed restrictions on travel and business activity.
In its latest figures, China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,102 new confirmed infections in China on Friday, bringing the cumulative total to 11,791. Around two dozen other countries have reported another 137 cases.
The Chinese data would suggest it is less deadly than the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people of the some 8,000 it infected, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
In Beijing, counters were set up at the entrances of housing estates, where volunteers wearing red arm bands and masks noted down details of residents coming back from their hometowns after the Lunar New Year holiday.
WHO has said global trade and travel restrictions were not needed.
A World Health Organization official said other governments need to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” if the disease spreads in their countries.
The agency acted out of concern for poorer countries that might not be equipped to respond, said the WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea. Such a declaration calls for a coordinated international response and can bring more money and resources.
WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.
Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with family or other close contact, they are concerned about cases of infection spreading to people who might have less exposure.
With Britain, Russia and Sweden among the countries confirming their first infections, the virus has now spread to more than two dozen nations, sending governments scurrying to limit their exposure.
The United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, Iran and other nations had already advised their citizens not to travel to China.
The virus emerged in early December and has been traced to a market in Hubei's capital Wuhan that sold wild animals.
It spread globally on the wings of a Lunar New Year holiday rush that sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel domestically and overseas.
In a bid to stop the contagion, the government has extended the holiday through this weekend and urged people to avoid public gatherings.
Many provinces and cities have called on companies to remain closed for another week after the holiday ends on Monday.
The economic fallout continued Saturday as Apple announced that "out of an abundance of caution" its China stores would be closed until February 9.
Press TV, AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.