TEHRAN: Iran’s deputy health minister has tested positive for the new coronavirus amid a major outbreak in the country which has seen 15 people die as a result, Aljazeera News reported on Tuesday.
Iraj Harirchi coughed occasionally and appeared to be sweating during a news conference in Tehran on Monday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei.
In a video broadcast on state television, the deputy minister put on a brave face as he admitted he was infected.
“I too have been infected with coronavirus,” Harirchi said in the video apparently shot by himself. “I had a fever as of last night and my preliminary test was positive around midnight,” he said.
“I’ve isolated myself in a place since. A few minutes ago, I was told that my final test was final, and now I am starting medication.”
An Iranian parliamentarian representing Tehran has also tested positive.
“My corona test is positive … I don’t have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world,” Mahmoud Sadeghi wrote on Twitter.
In the same message, he called on the head of Iran’s judiciary to release political prisoners to prevent them from getting infected and to allow them to spend the duration of the outbreak with their families.
Iran confirmed three more deaths and 34 new infections on Tuesday, taking the country’s overall death toll to 15 and infection tally to 95.
The country has been hit by the deadliest coronavirus outbreak by far outside China.
According to the health ministry, most of the deaths and infections outside Qom are among people who have recently visited the holy city.
The ministry’s spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 16 of the new cases were confirmed in Qom, while nine were in Tehran, and two each in Alborz, Gilan and Mazandaran.
The virus appeared to be spreading to new parts of Iran, as one new case was also reported in each of the provinces of Fars and Khorasan Razavi, as well as Qeshm Island.
Despite being Iran’s epicentre of the outbreak, Qom has yet to be quarantined.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki defended the decision on Tuesday and said that quarantine is an “old method”.
“We still do not agree with quarantining cities since we believe the people are cultured enough to refrain from travelling from infected cities to other places,” semi-official news agency ISNA quoted him as saying.
SUPPRESSED VITAL DETAILS
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the United States was “deeply concerned” Iran may have covered up details about the spread of coronavirus, and he called on all nations to “tell the truth.”
“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo told reporters, as he also criticised Beijing for what he characterized as the censorship of media and medical professionals.
“All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations,” he said.