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Member of Iranian Clerical Assembly Dies from Coronavirus as Toll Mounts

Member of Iranian Clerical Assembly Dies from Coronavirus as Toll Mounts

Monday, 16 March, 2020 - 07:15
People wearing face masks exercise on the shore of an artificial lake, in Western Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP)

A 78-year-old member of the Iranian clerical body that chooses the country's supreme leader has died from the illness caused by the new coronavirus as the death toll in the country rose to 853, with 129 deaths in the past 24 hours.

A total of 14,991 people have been infected across Iran, a health ministry official tweeted on Monday.

"In the past 24 hours we had 1,053 confirmed new cases of coronavirus and 129 new deaths," Alireza Vahabzadeh tweeted. The real numbers may be even higher, as some have questioned the government's reporting.

The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Hashem Bathaei, a low-profile, moderate member of the Assembly of Experts, died from the COVID-19 illness.

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who is 80 years old and has been in power since 1989, wore disposable gloves at a recent public event, apparently as a precaution.

Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials have been infected, compounding fears about Iran's response to the global pandemic, which has infected nearly 170,000 people worldwide and killed more than 6,500. More than 77,000 people have recovered.

The official leading Iran's response to the virus on Sunday expressed concerns that health facilities could be overwhelmed if the rate of new cases continues to climb.

"If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity," Ali Reza Zali, who is leading the campaign against the outbreak, was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Iran is believed to have around 110,000 hospital beds, including 30,000 in the capital, Tehran. Authorities have pledged to set up mobile clinics as needed.

Despite the mounting toll, many Iranians are shrugging off concerns about the virus. The streets of Tehran were bustling on Sunday, with many people out shopping in stores with little evidence of panic-buying.

To contain the outbreak in Iran, one of the deadliest outside of China, officials have called on people to stay at home.

"Based on the figures, we have past the peak of the outbreak, but I still suggest people stay at home, and in case of urgency, observe all health protocols," said President Hassan Rouhani, according to state TV.

A host of senior officials, politicians, doctors, commanders of the Revolutionary Guards and clerics have been infected with the virus. Several of them, including two members of a top clerical body, have died, according to state media.

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