Iraqi semi-autonomous Kurdistan region bans New year festivals due to coronavirus

ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi semi-autonomous Kurdistan region has banned the Nowruz New Year festivals due later this month due to coronavirus fears, a statement said on Wednesday.

The region will also limit personal travel and trade activities, the self-autonomous government said in a statement.

The entry of people from other regions into Iraqi Kurdistan will be halted from March 14 to 28 unless special approval is granted, it added. Iraqi-Kurds had until March 16 to come back from Iran, afterwards their entry would be denied.

Travel between cities of the Kurdistan region from March 14 to March 28 would be allowed only for medical or U.N. staff and security forces, the statement said.

Earlier, Iraqi officials in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala banned Friday prayers due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Kerbala, like the neighboring holy city of Najaf, attracts Shi’ites pilgrims from Iraq and abroad. Prayers were also canceled last Friday, while Najaf has stopped arrival of any non-residents.

At least 67 coronavirus cases have been reported in Iraq, mostly from travelers who came from neighboring Iran, where the death toll has topped 350.

Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alison Williams