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Adviser to Iran's FM Zarif Dies of Coronavirus

Adviser to Iran's FM Zarif Dies of Coronavirus

Friday, 6 March, 2020 - 10:15
Iranian municipality worker disinfects a street in the capital Tehran as the country struggles to contain a rapid spread of coronavirus | AFP

An adviser to Iran's foreign minister who took part in the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis has died from coronavirus, the official IRNA news agency reported, as the death toll rose in the country.


Hossein Sheikholeslam, "a veteran and revolutionary diplomat" died late Thursday, IRNA said.


Six of those who died from coronavirus are politicians or government officials.


Iran on Friday announced 17 more deaths from the virus, raising the total number of people killed to 124, as the overall number of cases soared.


"We have confirmed 1,234 new cases, which is a record in the past few days," health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference, raising the total number of infections to 4,747.


The new cases "are probably those who had been infected with the virus two weeks ago and have just came to us with symptoms," he added.


Before his death, Sheikholeslam was advisor to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.


A former ambassador to Syria, he also served as deputy foreign minister from 1981 to 1997.


Sheikholeslam was also one of the students involved in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.


That year, and less than nine months after the toppling of the American-backed shah, Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.


This prompted Washington to sever diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980.


The hostages were freed in January 1981, after 444 days in captivity.


The novel coronavirus has also claimed the lives of other high-profile Iranian officials, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi of the Expediency Council which advises supreme leader Ali Khamenei.


Other deaths linked to the virus include Mohammad Ali Ramezani, an MP from Gilan, one of the worst-hit provinces in the country.


Tehran MP Fatemeh Rahbar is currently in a coma after being infected, according to ISNA news agency.


Iran has closed schools and universities, suspended major cultural and sporting events and reduced working hours across the country to halt the rapid spread of coronavirus, which has spread to all of its 31 provinces.


Health Minister Saeed Namaki told a news conference on Thursday that all schools and universities will remain closed until the end of the Iranian calendar year on March 20, and that checkpoints will be used to limit travel between major cities.


"People should not consider this as an opportunity to go traveling. They should stay home and take our warnings seriously," Saeed Namaki said at a televised press conference.


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