'Highest risk outside China': Australia enacts Iran travel ban over suspicious death rate_1


Suspicion that Iran's coronovirus virus infection rate is much higher than reported has prompted a swift Australian travel ban effective from Sunday 1 March.

The secretive country has the highest official death toll outside Hubei and is now the highest risk outside China but is denying accusations of a cover-up.

The Australian government says Iran's official figures are almost certainly underestimated while the BBC's Farsi service claims the death toll is was more than four times as high.

Cases of the virus from Iran are already to spreading to a number of countries, including Australia and New Zealand, despite no direct flights and a relatively low number of travellers from the Arab nation.

A Gold Coast beautician who returned from Iran become Australia's latest victim on Saturday and authorities are racing to track down about 40 of her customers.

The World health Organisation is also scrambling to get its officials into Iran as the Islamic State's health ministry revealed it was preparing for the possibility of "tens of thousands" needing testing for coronavirus.

Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour's said 43 people had died amid 593 confirmed cases but denied claims of a cover-up.

However his acknowledgement of the number of people potentially wanting testing shows how concerned Iran is over the virus, especially after days of officials downplaying it.

Jahanpour also urged people not to attend funerals of the dead, as a mass gathering could help spread the virus.

From Sunday Australians advised not to travel to Iran and foreigners coming from Iran will be banned from entering Australia.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the ban was prompted by the high death rate in Iran.

"They have the highest death rate … outside of Hubei," he told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.

"There is likely at this stage a high level of undetected cases, and therefore those cases won't be intercepted or identified on departure from Iran."

The 63-year-old Gold Coast woman whose coronavirus was undetected on leaving Iran returned to Australia on Monday, but began feeling ill on Thursday while at work.

She saw up to 40 people at the Hair Plus salon at Australia Fair at Southport.

Queensland's chief medical officer Dr Jeannette Young said because most of the contact the woman had with each customer was less than 15 minutes, the risk she had passed on the virus was "incredibly low".

Health officials were in the process of contacting customers and anyone who visited the salon from 11am on Thursday was urged to contact Gold Coast University Hospital.

The latest restrictions for Iran are now consistent with those in place for China.

It comes just days after the government extended the ban on people coming from China for a further week.

Under the new restrictions, Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family who've travelled to Iran will be required to self isolate.

Foreign nationals who are in Iran will be banned from entering Australia for 14 days, from the time they have left or travelled through the country.

There are now 85,153 coronavirus cases worldwide and 2,922 reported deaths across 58 countries.

New countries with confirmed cases include Iceland, New Zealand and Mexico.

So far 15 people in Australia have been diagnosed and all have been cleared. Another nine, who were caught on the Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers in Japan, are being treated in their home states.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it's likely Australia will continue to see more cases.

"It's very unlikely we can prevent further cases coming into Australia, but the case in Queensland has been well followed up," he told reporters.

"Our aim at the moment is to detect any cases we see over coming weeks and contain them as much as possible to delay the spread of this virus in Australia."

Elderly people, particularly those aged over 80, as well as those with health issues like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease are most at risk of developing Covid-19.

-with AAP