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Council Member Close to Iran’s Khamenei Dies from Coronavirus

Council Member Close to Iran’s Khamenei Dies from Coronavirus

Monday, 2 March, 2020 - 08:30
Men wearing face masks wait for a bus in northern Tehran, Iran, Sunday, March 1, 2020. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat

A member of a council that advises supreme leader Ali Khamenei has died after after falling ill from the new coronavirus, reported Iranian state radio on Monday.


Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi died at 71, it said.


The council advises Khamenei, as well as settles disputes between the supreme leader and parliament.


His death comes as other top officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world after China, the epicenter of the outbreak.


Iran has reported more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the new virus with 66 deaths from the illness it causes, called COVID-19. Across the wider Middle East, there are over 1,150 cases of the new coronavirus, the majority of which are linked back to Iran.


"The definite latest numbers we have are 523 new infections and 12 new deaths so the total number of those infected is 1,501 until now and the number of deaths is 66," Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi announced on state television, as a World Health Organization (WHO) team headed to Tehran.


A four-person WHO team is expected to arrive in Iran on Monday evening, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva, and will review measures to deal with the outbreak and provide technical guidance.


During a week-long visit, the team will meet health ministry representatives and visit health facilities and laboratories dealing with the response to the coronavirus outbreak.


Trying to stem the outbreak, Tehran on Monday held an online-only briefing by the Foreign Ministry as Britain began evacuating nonessential staff and families from the country.


Experts worry Iran's percentage of deaths to infections, around 5.5%, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than current figures show.


Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi opened the online news conference addressing the outbreak, dismissing an offer of help for Iran by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


Iran and the US have seen some of the worst tensions since its 1979 revolution in recent months, culminating in the American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and a subsequent Iranian ballistic missile counterattack against US forces.


Hoarded medical supplies


Iranian authorities, meanwhile, uncovered a stash of hoarded medical supplies including millions of gloves.


The hoarded supplies, including 28 million medical gloves, were found in two warehouses in Kahrizak, a town about 25 km south of Tehran, a Revolutionary Guards commander, Hassan Hassanzadeh, told the Fars news agency.


Pharmacies are short of gloves and other supplies.


Anyone found hoarding medical supplies will be dealt with harshly, Iran's judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday, according to Mizan, the news site of the judiciary.


"Show no mercy to hoarders of medicine and medical supplies," Raisi said in a message to prosecu


Travel curbs


The British Embassy meanwhile has begun evacuations over the virus.


"Essential staff needed to continue critical work will remain," the British Foreign Office said. "In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy to provide assistance to British nationals from within Iran may be limited."


While Iran has closed schools and universities to stop the spread of the virus, major Shiite shrines have remained open despite civilian authorities calling for them to be closed. The cities of Mashhad and Qom in particular, both home to shrines, have been hard-hit by the virus.


Armenia, meanwhile, will temporarily suspend its visa-free regime for Iranian citizens within the next five days, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said during a government meeting about coronavirus prevention on Monday.


Armenia reported its first coronavirus infection on Sunday, in a citizen returning from neighboring Iran, and on Monday said it would extend the closure of its border with Iran, which was announced on Feb. 23.


Pashinyan did not say how long the additional extension would be.


Uzbekistan suspended flights to and from Iran, Afghanistan and Italy to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Central Asian nation's foreign ministry said on Monday.


Kazakhstan will bar Iranian nationals from entering the Central Asian nation starting from March 5, the government said on Monday, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.


Sweden's Public Health Agency called on Monday for the government's transport authority to withdraw Iran Air's license to fly to and from Sweden because of the outbreak.


"Continuing to receive large groups of passengers from Iran, in the current circumstances, would make the work of limiting the spread of COVID-19 considerably more difficult and raise the risk that the infection could spread locally," Public Health Agency General Director Johan Carlson said in a statement.


Iran Air currently has two direct flights to and from Stockholm Arlanda, and one to and from Gothenburg Landvetter, per week.


Sweden's Transport Agency has not stopped flights between Sweden and China.


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