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Iranian government denies coronavirus death toll of 50 in Qom as panic sets in

An Iranian woman wearing a protective mask walks in Tehran [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 February, 2020

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The Iranian city of Qom has reported dozens of deaths due to coronavirus as the disease continues to spread worldwide.
The Iranian government denied claims that 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, which had been reported by Iran's ILNA news agency.

Iran's deputy health minister denied accusations that the government is covering up the deaths, as the number of confirmed deaths there rose to 12.

A parliamentarian for Qom, the city at the centre of Iran's Covid-19 outbreak, accused the authorities of lying about the full extent of the problem.

Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani said there had been 50 deaths in Qom alone.

That was rejected by the minister, who vowed to resign if it could be proven that even half that number had died.

"I categorically deny this information," Iraj Harirchi told a news conference.

"This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.

The 50-person death toll is significantly higher than the latest number of confirmed cases of infections, which Iranian officials reported a few hours earlier, and stood at just 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV.

A lawmaker from Qom, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, was quoted in ILNA saying that more than 250 people are quarantined in the city, and added that the 50 deaths date back to the 13 February.

The first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths on 19 February.

Speaking to ILNA, Farahani said the situation in Qom is "not good".

"I think performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful," he said, referring to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

"None of the nurses have access to proper protective gears," Farahani said, adding that some health care specialists had left the city.

"So far, I haven't seen any particular action to confront [coronavirus] by the administration."

The new coronavirus originated in China sometime around December and has since swept across the world, with cases reported in the UAE, Egypt, as well as Asia.

There are concerns that clusters in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.

Authorities in Iran have closed schools across much of the country for a second day as neighbouring countries reported infections from travellers from Iran, prompting several to shut their borders to Iranian citizens.

The number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, as compared to the ratios in China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.

Iranian health officials have not revealed whether health workers in Qom who first came in contact with infected people had taken precautionary measures in treating those who died of the virus.

Iran also has not said how many people are in quarantine across the country overall.

Kuwait announced on Monday its first cases of the virus, saying that three travellers returning from the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran were confirmed infected with the coronavirus.

Iran, however, has not yet reported any confirmed cases of the virus in Mashhad, raising questions about how the government is carrying out tests and quarantines.

Iran has confirmed cases so far in five cities, including the capital Tehran. A local mayor in Tehran is among those infected and in quarantine.

Kuwait has been evacuating some 750 citizens from Iran and testing them as they enter the country after saying that Iran had barred its medical workers from testing travellers at an exit terminal in Iran, despite an agreement to do so.

The three returning from Iran to Kuwait who were infected with the virus are being treated in Kuwait and were identified as a Kuwaiti male, 53, a Saudi male, 61, and the third was not identified except as a 21-year-old.

The news was reported by the Kuwait News Agency quoting the Kuwait Health Ministry.

Iranian travellers with the virus have also been confirmed in Canada, Lebanon, the UAE and Bahrain.

Read More: Clash of the internet: The rise of Iran's cyber warfare against US and the Gulf

The outbreak in Iran has centred mostly on the city of Qom but spread rapidly over the past few days as Iranians went to the polls on Friday for nationwide parliamentary elections, with many voters wearing masks and stocking up on hand sanitiser.

Iran is already facing diplomatic and economic isolation under US pressure.

The virus threatens to isolate Iran even further as countries shut their borders to Iranians.

Football fans across the country will not be allowed to attend matches and shows in cinemas and other venues were suspended until Friday.

Authorities have begun daily sanitization of Tehran's metro, which is used by some 3 million people, and public transportation cars in the city.

Agencies contributed to this report

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