Iran’s deputy health minister and head of its counter-coronavirus task force has tested positive for the virus himself, authorities announced Tuesday, showing the challenges facing Tehran amid concerns the outbreak may be far wider than officially acknowledged.
The announcement regarding Iraj Harirchi came after he gave a news conference with journalists in Tehran about the virus just one day prior, seeking to minimize the danger posed by the outbreak.
A prominent pro-reform lawmaker, Mamoud Sadeghi of Tehran, also said in a tweet that he tested positive for the virus.
The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday meanwhile banned all flights to and from Iran over the outbreak of the new coronavirus. The move comes just a day after the virus’ spread from Iran was announced across multiple Middle East nations. Iran earlier raised the official death toll from the virus to 15 killed amid 95 confirmed infections.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour confirmed Harirchi had the virus.
Harirchi himself posted an online video saying he had the virus and that he had quarantined himself at his home. He promised that authorities would bring the virus under control.
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing around 2,700 deaths, mainly in China. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.
Iran's government said Tuesday that 15 people had died nationwide from the new coronavirus, rejecting claims of a much higher death toll of 50 by a lawmaker from the city of Qom that has been at the epicenter of the virus in the country.
The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government’s transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak.
The new death toll came from Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour during an interview with Iranian state television. He said there were 95 confirmed cases of the virus in Iran, with many linked to Qom.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sought to reassure the nation in a speech on Tuesday, calling the new coronavirus an "uninvited and inauspicious passenger.”
“We will get through corona," Rouhani said. "We will get through the virus.”
Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq and Oman also announced their first cases of the virus on Monday and connected them to travel with Iran.
Also Tuesday, a Turkish Airlines flight from Tehran to Istanbul landed in Ankara with 17 passengers suspected of having coronavirus, including some who had been to the Iranian city of Qom, Turkey's CNN-Turk broadcaster reported. The passengers were to be quarantined at an Ankara hospital that had previously quarantined Turks returning from China's Hubei province.
Turkish Airlines has temporarily suspended most flights with Iran, apart from those with Tehran.