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Iran deputy health minister, MP diagnosed with coronavirus amid speculation of cover-up

At least 15 Iranians have died from the coronavirus [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 25 February, 2020

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An outbreak of COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, in Iran has sparked panic throughout the Middle East.
Iran's deputy health minister said on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus amid a major outbreak in the Islamic Republic.

A member of parliament has also been diagnosed with the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi coughed accassionally and appeared to be sweating when he appeared in Tehran at a government press conference on Monday to dispel claims of a high death toll from the virus.

Lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani had alleged that 50 people had died from the virus in the Shia holy city of Qom alone - a figure far above the official number of nine at the time of his statement.

Harirchi denied the politician's claim and said he would resign if the number proved to be true.

In a video broadcast on state television, the deputy minister admitted he had been infected and pledged to overcome the virus.

"I too have been infected with coronavirus," Harirchi said.

"I had a fever as of last night and my preliminary test was positive around midnight," he said.

"I've isolated myself in a place since. A few minutes ago, I was told that my final test was final, and now I am starting medication.

"I wanted to tell you that... we will definitely be victorious against this virus in the next few weeks," Harirchi declared.

But he warned Iranians to be careful as the "virus does not discriminate" and infects anyone, regardless of standing.

Shortly after Harirchi's revelation, a politician representing the capital Tehran in parliament said he had also tested positive for the coronavirus.

"My corona test is positive... I don't have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world," Mahmoud Sadeghi said in a tweet.

He called on Iranian authorities to grant political prisoners compassionate release in order to prevent them from getting infected, Reuters reported.

The Islamic Republic has been hit by the deadliest outbreak of the virus by far outside China. 

South Korea and Italy have also seen a ballooning number of cases but fewer deaths.

Iran confirmed three more deaths and 34 new infections on Tuesday, taking the country's overall death toll to 15 and infection tally to 95.

Qom lawmaker Farahani's claims have spurred speculation that Tehran is covering up a higher number of cases. 

[Click to enlarge]

According to the health ministry, most of the deaths and infections outside Qom are among people who have recently visited the holy city.

Despite being Iran's epicentre of the outbreak, Qom has yet to be quarantined. The virus has since spread to the capital, as well as Alborz, Gilan, Mazandaran, Fars, Khorasan Razavi and Qeshm island.

Health minister Saeed Namaki defended the decision on Tuesday, calling quarantine an "old method".

"We still do not agree with quarantining cities since we believe the people are cultured enough to refrain from travelling from infected cities to other places," semi-official news agency ISNA quoted him as saying.

Turkish plane quarantined after returning from Iran

A number of countries in the Middle East region have grounded flights and shuttered their borders with the Islamic Republic in recent days.

Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman all reported their first cases of the virus this week.

Turkey said it had shut its borders with Iran on Sunday, but Turkish Airlines continues to operate flights from Tehran to Istanbul restricted to Turkish passengers.

A Tehran-Istanbul flight was redirected to Ankara's Esenboga airport on Tuesday after 17 passengers on board presented with symptoms of the coronavirus.

No cases of the virus have been detected in Turkey as of yet.

Agencies contributed to this report

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