iranian health workers
© Reuters
Health workers on motorbikes fumigate as a preventive measure against the coronavirus along a street in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on March 15.
A roundup of the latest news on the coronavirus crisis in RFE/RL's broadcast countries:

Iran

Iran says the COVID-19 illness has killed 129 more people, a single-day record high for one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

During a televised news conference on March 16, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur appealed to the public to drastically curb outings, especially intercity trips.

"Our plea is that everyone take this virus seriously and in no way attempts to travel to any province," Jahanpur said.

The deaths bring the overall toll to 853 fatalities since February 19, when the government announced Iran's first two deaths from the COVID-19 disease sparked by the coronavirus.

Jahanpour also reported 1,053 confirmed new cases of infection in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 14,991.

Iran has the third-most registered cases after China and Italy.

Tehran Province had the highest number of new infections with 200 cases, about 50 fewer than the day before.

The central province of Isfahan followed with 118 cases, with Mazandaran in the north of Tehran coming next with 96.

The holy city of Qom in central Iran, where the virus was first reported, had 19 new cases that took its total to 1,023.

There are suspicions that the outbreak in the Islamic republic -- whose government is known for its opaqueness and censorship -- is far worse than authorities are admitting.


Comment: Another high-ranking Iranian cleric has died: Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, a member of the Assembly of Experts, a religious body overseeing the Supreme Leader of Iran which can designate or dismiss the top Ayatollah. Iran has "tested" over 10,000,000 people so far, by which they mean that many people have been screened for symptoms.


Serbia

Serbia has declared a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus outbreak, shutting down schools and universities and deploying the military to guard hospitals.

"We will close down to save our lives, to save our parents, to save our elderly," President Aleksandar Vucic said in a televised address on March 15.

Vucic said the details of the measures will be announced on March 16, adding that "there will be limitations of all sorts."

The president said that from March 16 the military will be guarding state hospitals, while police will be monitoring those quarantined or in self-isolation for 14 or 28 days.

Those who violate quarantine may face jail terms of up to three years, he warned.

Earlier on March 15, Serbia announced it was closing the borders to foreigners coming from the worst-hit countries.

Vucic, however, said the border entry ban does not apply to people from China, praising Beijing for helping Serbia amid the COVID-19 crisis.

He criticized the European Union for allegedly failing to provide adequate support.

After Vucic's address, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told state TV that borders will be open only "for Serbians, foreign diplomats, and foreign nationals with residence permits."

The Balkan state has so far recorded 48 coronavirus infections. There have been no fatalities, but two patients are in a serious condition, health authorities say.


Comment: The EU isn't offering support, but China is:
"Only China can help us in this situation," the Serbian leader added, saying he recently wrote a letter to China's Xi Jinping "asking him for help and calling him a brother."

Serbia received five million masks from China that it couldn't get in Europe and an offer to send doctors to help tackle the disease, the president said. The country had to shop for respirators on a "semi gray market."

Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan

Five more cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Uzbekistan, bringing the total to six, the government's Telegram channel dedicated to the disease said on March 16.

Four of the six individuals are members of one Uzbek family returning from France, the government said in a separate statement.

Uzbekistan early on March 15 had reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

The same day, neighboring Kazakhstan declared a state of emergency as authorities announced that three new cases had been recorded, pushing the total number there to nine.

Kazakhstan was thought to have been coronavirus-free until four infections were confirmed on March 13.

The state of emergency announced by presidential decree imposes a nationwide quarantine and will restrict both entry to and departure from the country to all except diplomats and individuals invited by the government.

Kazakhstan had already announced the cancellation of Norouz holiday celebrations and a military parade devoted to the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

Officials there previously said more than 1,000 people were in quarantine and nearly 500 others in self-quarantine at home.

Uzbekistan announced similar sweeping measures on March 15, barring entry for all foreigners and departures by locals.

The Uzbek government also closed schools and universities for three weeks, canceled all public events, and suspended international air and highway connections beginning March 16.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the only Central Asian republics to have officially registered any cases of the new coronavirus at the center of a global pandemic that as of early March 15 had infected more than 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800.

Armenia

The Armenian government has declared a monthlong state of emergency to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

"A state of emergency has been declared throughout the republic from 5 p.m. on March 16 to 9 a.m. on April 16," Armenian Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan told an extraordinary government meeting on March 16.

Armenia has reported 30 coronavirus cases so far. One patient has recovered, and more than 300 people remain in quarantine. There have been no recorded deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the Caucasus nation.

Armenia and Russia have agreed to suspend passenger flights between the two countries for two weeks in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Armenian government press service said on March 16.

The decision was made during a phone conversation between Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Mishustin.

All Armenian educational institutions in the country are shut, while the borders with Iran - one of the countries hardest hit by the outbreak - and Georgia are closed.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan reported five new cases on March 15, bringing the total number of registered cases in the country to 16.

Officials in Kabul said that all of those infected are Afghans who have recently returned from neighboring Iran.

The officials said up to 15,000 Afghan migrants workers and refugees are returning from Iran on a daily basis.

Pakistan

Pakistani President Arif Alvi is on an official visit to China on March 16-17 to hold meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and other top officials, Alvi's office said in a statement on March 15.

The statement said the visit aims at "further solidifying historic bonds" between the two countries and described China and Pakistan as "the closest friends and staunch partners."

It also pointed out that the visit comes as China is "engaged in efforts to contain" the spread of the new coronavirus, which has affected 157 countries and territories since it was first recorded in Wuhan, a city in central China.

It's Alvi's first official visit to China, a strategic partner and major investor to Pakistan's economy.

Pakistan on March 16 announced 41 additional cases of infection with the coronavirus after 41 more cases were confirmed in the Sindh region, bringing the total tally to 94.

Dozens of people quarantined at the Pakistan-Iran border protested what they called the poor hygiene in the camps.

The quarantined include religious pilgrims who are now returning from Iran.

Romania

President Klaus Iohannis is expected to declare a state of emergency for 30 days to fight the spread of the disease.

Romania has 158 registered cases.

One Romanian citizen -- a woman in her 80s -- died last week in Italy from COVID-19, the illness sparked by the virus.