KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 — Iran’s deputy health minister got infected with the novel coronavirus from China, a ministry official confirmed, amid an outbreak in the republic.
Alireza Vahabzadeh, a media adviser to the Iranian health minister, tweeted that Iraj Harirchi tested positive, adding that he was on the frontlines combating Covid-19.
Speculation has been rife that Harirchi was ill, after coughing occasionally and appeared to be wiping off sweat from his forehead with a cloth during a press conference on Monday.
During that presser, Harirchi denied a lawmaker’s claim that 50 people had died from the virus in Qom, a shrine city considered sacred to Shia Muslims, and that he would resign if the number was proven to be true.
Iran has since officially reported 15 deaths and 95 confirmed cases of Covid-19, AFP reported, most of which were among people who had recently visited the holy city of Qom, at least 16, according to a ministry spokesman.
The numbers have been disputed by international reports, however, with The Independent claiming that the official Iranian mortality rate due to Covid-19 is 25 per cent, far greater than the 3.2 per cent reported in China.
The Islamic country is among hard-hit countries by the coronavirus outbreak from Wuhan, a central Chinese city. It appears that Covid-19 has proven unusually lethal in Iran, as it also began spreading to new parts of the country.
The Independent said research suggests the disparity could be attributed to access to differing levels of nutrition, housing and quality health care, as well the potential emergence of a new and more deadly mutation of the virus.
Health officials however have since said that there was no evidence that the coronavirus was changing, and that Iranians could just be undercounting the number of cases, according to John Paget, an epidemiologist at the Netherlands Institute for Public Health Services Research.
Schools, universities and cultural centres across 14 Iranian provinces have been closed, while commuters have avoided public transportation and physical contact with friends. Ancient religious pilgrimage routes have also been shut down as well as aviation links.