Iranian-Canadians worried about rise in COVID-19 cases

Concerns are rising in the Iranian community in Ontario, as the province saw an increase in COVID-19 cases over the weekend.

Ontario reported three new cases of the coronavirus in the Toronto area on Monday, bringing the total in the province to 18. All of the new cases were people who had recently travelled to Iran or Egypt, or family members of those who had visited those countries.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is now asking travellers from Iran to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in Canada.

Some in the Iranian community are worried about loved ones stuck in Iran.

Farah Hossein Zadah Birjandi is a member of the Iranian community in Thornhill. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

“It’s a very complicated situation … Nowadays, I cannot sleep,” said Farah Hossein Zadah Birjandi from Thornhill, Ont.

Her husband arrived in Iran in mid-February, and shortly after, the country began reporting a surge in COVID-19 cases. With many borders closed and international flights cancelled, her husband is stuck in Iran.

“I’ve been in touch with five agencies in Iran and even ones here,” said Birjandi.

“All flights are full, and if not, they are so expensive — between $5,000 to $7,000.”

Iran has confirmed 1,501 cases of the virus and 66 deaths so far, but many believe the true number is larger, as the country’s caseload surged more than 250 per cent in just 24 hours.

Birjandi contacted Global Affairs Canada, who told her that the government is not helping Canadians get out of Iran at this time.

“I’m lacking in energy these days, but I’m the kind of person that never gives up,” said Birjandi.

Gatherings cancelled, some people self-quarantined

Alireza Heidari and Hamid Gharajeh are leaders in the Iranian community. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

Hamid Gharajeh and Alireza Heidari are leaders in Toronto’s close-knit Iranian community. According to them, those who had managed to fly home were surprised at the lack of screening at the airport.

“Some people landed in Canada without any questions,” said Gharajeh. “There was no screening or no testing at the airport.”

As of Monday afternoon, travellers arriving in Canada from Iran are being asked to self-isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those coming from Iran will be asked to report any symptoms that may be linked to the virus, or to self-isolate for 14 days if they are asymptomatic.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the new measure is being imposed because new cases confirmed in Canada have been traced to travel in Iran, a pattern she called “very concerning.”

“The Iranian community in Richmond Hill is taking our initiative to inform our people to try to stay home and especially cancel any gatherings,” said Gharajeh.

“Right now over this last week, I’m aware of three events being cancelled,” added Heidari.

The risk factor for Iran has been increased by Public Health Agency of Canada to the same level as China’s Hubei province, the area where the outbreak began.

The agency says the risk in Canada associated with COVID-19 remains low.


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