Prominent Iraqi Shia scholar diagnosed with coronavirus
"My uncle, may God protect him, is being treated and his health is consistently progressing," his nephew Mohsen Almodaressi said in a Facebook post, warning against those who spread rumours.
The 63-year-old cleric is among one of the most prominent Shia leaders in Iraq and comes from a long line of active scholars.
The announcement of his diagnosis comes as Iraq's health ministry on Saturday confirmed an increase in the number of people infected with the coronavirus to 55.
At least 4 of those diagnosed with the novel virus have died while 4 others have recovered, according to authorities.
Iraq on Friday evening announced further measures to contain the novel coronavirus, after representatives of Iraq's top Shia cleric took the rare step of not delivering his weekly sermon to worshippers.
The Iraqi government's crisis unit said shopping centres will only open three hours a day, schools and universities will be closed until March 21, and public administrations will only open for a few hours a day, effective immediately.
Foreign nationals arriving from France and Spain will be denied entry.
Authorities had already closed the borders with neighbouring Iran, which has seen the world's second-deadliest outbreak, and banned the entry of foreign nationals travelling from there and other badly affected countries.
Schools, universities, cinemas and other public spaces had been closed for the past week, but restaurants, malls and cafes have remained open.
On Friday, representatives who usually read Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's address at a packed mosque, broadcast live on state television, did not appear.
Religious authorities had already closed the shrine of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, where his sermon is usually delivered, to mitigate the risk of contagion.
The 89-year-old Sistani is based in the Shia holy city of Najaf, south of Karbala, and never appears in public.
An official at the site in the holy city of Karbala told AFP that "the cancellation of Friday prayers at the Imam Hussein shrine is a first since 2003", the year an American-led invasion toppled veteran dictator Saddam Hussein.
Sources close to Sistani's office confirmed the unprecedented nature of the decision.
Authorities are particularly worried about coronavirus spreading via Shia holy sites, which attract millions of pilgrims including many from Iran.
Provincial authorities have barred non-residents from entering Karbala province from Friday.
Sistani had dedicated part of his last two sermons to the health situation in the country of 40 million.
The virus has fuelled panic among Iraqis who say the war-ravaged country's health system cannot handle the epidemic.
The COVID-19 was first detected in China in early December but has since spread across much of the world. Worldwide, more than 100,000 case have been confirmed and the death toll stands at 3,600.