Iran said on Sunday an Iranian infected by the new coronavirus died, head of the Medical Science University in the Mazandaran province was quoted as saying, bringing the number of deaths to eight in the country.
They were the first deaths from the disease in the Middle East.
“An Iranian who traveled from Tehran to Tonekabon has died of the new coronavirus,” Abbas Mousavi said, Iranian media reported.
A health ministry official said 43 people were infected with the virus.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki said Sunday that travel from China brought the new virus to the Middle Eastern country, amid concerns that coronavirus clusters in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.
He said that one the Iranian dead from the virus was a merchant who regularly shuttled between the two countries using indirect flights in recent weeks, after Iran stopped direct passenger flights to China.
Namaki also defended the government's handling of the outbreak, saying it was being “transparent.” He said it would help make face-masks and sanitizers available for Iranians, amid concerns that stocks were running low in the capital's pharmacies.
Authorities have ordered as a "preventive measure" the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday.
They include the city of Qom where the first cases emerged, as well as Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan, Kurdistan and the capital, Tehran.
Namaki urged people not to visit Qom, which is a major destination for Shiite pilgrims.
Art events, concerts and film shows have been banned for a week.
Namaki said Sunday on state television that treatment of COVID-19 cases would be free. Iran is also producing kits for diagnosis of the infection, he added.
"In every city, one hospital will be dedicated to treating coronavirus cases," he said, adding that this number would be greater in bigger cities like the capital.
Iran has also set up 36 screening stations at different ports of entry to the country to check for possibly infected travellers, he added.
Tehran's city hall has ordered the closure of snack shops and water fountains in metro stations, officials said.
Gholamreza Mohammadi, spokesman of Tehran municipality, said buses and underground trains were being disinfected.
Mohsen Hashemi, head of Tehran's municipal council, said, "If the number of infections increases in Tehran, the whole city will be quarantined."
Posters were also being put up across the sprawling city on Sunday, asking people not to shake hands as part of a coronavirus prevention campaign.
Iran's cyberpolice meanwhile warned that anyone putting "fake clips" online related to the virus would be punished.
The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the speed at which COVID-19 has spread in Iran, as well as it being exported from there to other countries, including Lebanon.