COVID-19 spreads virus worries in Tri-Cities Iranian community

Anmore's Fred Soofi, a native of Iran who owns a Coquitlam restaurant, says he has heard people are now hesitant to travel to Iran

An Anmore resident closely connected to the Tri-Cities’ Iranian community says he will likely wear a mask and take other precautions to avoid the COVID-19 coronavirus while on a flight to Sri Lanka next week.

Restaurateur Fred Soofi, a Coquitlam restaurant owner who has a wide network of friends who have moved to the Tri-Cities from Iran, said many in the community are paying close attention to the news that B.C.’s latest presumptive coronavirus case recently returned to B.C. from that nation.

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The 30-year-old woman is in self-isolation, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s top medical officer, and the woman’s close network is being monitored.

In a press conference Thursday, Henry said the woman, who lives in the Fraser Health region, which includes the Tri-Cities, went to a hospital with flu-like symptoms when she arrived back in B.C. The woman's infection is relatively mild.

The revelation that someone arriving from Iran had contracted the illness brings into question how the virus is being spread and monitored elsewhere in the world, and according to Soofi, many with connections in Iran are worried the government there was slow to react to the spread of the disease.

“Here, Iranians are very concerned and people are not going to be travelling to Iran. They want to know who that person is [who contracted the illness],” Soofi told The Tri-City News.

He speculated the Iranian government downplayed concerns about the disease because it was concerned that people would stay home and not vote in Feb. 21 parliamentary elections.

Now, he’s worried that people in Iran may have the illness and may not know it, and said he has heard people with close connections to Iran won’t be travelling there in the near future, even though they may have had plans to do so for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year in March.

So far, there appear to be no additional precautions being taken at YVR to encourage people to get checked for coronavirus if they have flu-like symptoms, other than signs directing people arriving from China to stay home for 14 days if they are sick, the Richmond News reports.

All of the reported cases of the virus in Iran have been in the Qom region, just south of Tehran. By Friday, Iran had 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus and four deaths. Media reports from the state news agency say the victims were elderly and hadn’t travelled abroad or outside of Qom province.

It’s not known if B.C.’s sixth coronavirus victim had been to the Qom region.

Soofi said unlike Canada and other countries, Iran didn’t stop flights to China because it does a lot of business with the Asian superpower.

Soofi said he has no plans to travel to Iran but is not taking any chances on his upcoming visit to Sri Lanka for his daughter’s wedding. He will likely wear a mask, he says, and he chose a route that avoids Hong Kong, even though it will be longer. As well, his wife, who is an infection-control practitioner and advises health facilities on proper precautions, will be disinfecting the airplane seats.

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