Iran confirms two new coronavirus deaths as infections mount
The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday, when officials said it killed two elderly people in the Shia holy city of Qom. It remains unknown how the virus spread to the country.
They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.
"Thirteen new cases have been confirmed," Iran's health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. "Unfortunately two of them have lost their lives."
The newly reported cases included "seven in Qom, four in Tehran, and two in Gilan" on the Caspian Sea coast, Jahanpour tweeted.
"Most of the cases are still either Qom residents" or were people who had come from Qom to other provinces "in recent days and weeks", he added.
He did not comment on the suspected origins of the outbreak in the Islamic republic.
He added that Iran had so far received from the World Health Organization four shipments of medical kits used to detect COVID-19.
Qom is a centre for Islamic studies and tourists, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.
Video footage emerged on social media on Thursday purported to show Farghani Hospital in Qom being evacuated and prepared to deal with coronavirus patients.
However, a government official said the first two people who died of the disease had not left Iran.
Coronavirus Spread in the Middle East
Following the announcement of the deaths, Iraq on Thursday clamped down on travel to and from the Islamic republic.
The health ministry in Baghdad said people from Iran had been barred from entering Iraq "until further notice".
Kuwait's national carrier Kuwait Airways also announced it would suspend all of its flights to Iran.
Iran was holding a parliamentary election on Friday, with state media saying that the coronavirus had not been able to dampen "the revolutionary zeal of Qom's people" to turn out to vote.
The new coronavirus has now claimed the lives of 13 people outside mainland China.
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The United Arab Emirates last month became the first country in the Middle East to report cases of the coronavirus strain. It now has nine cases.
Egypt has also reported one case.
Israel on Friday became the latest country in the region to confirm a case of coronavirus, in a citizen who flew home from Japan after being quarantined on a stricken cruise ship.
Iran's health sector has been hit by sanctions imposed by the United States since Washington withdrew in 2018 from a landmark nuclear deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay connected