TEHRAN – On the day Iran announced that the death toll due to the coronavirus COVID-19 in the country had risen to 16, the nation’s deputy health minister revealed he had tested positive and had isolated himself at home.
Iraj Harirchi, who was head of country’s counter-coronavirus task force, put out a video on social media announcing that he had tested positive for the virus.
“I too have been infected with coronavirus…I had a fever as of last night and my preliminary test was positive around midnight,” he said in the video.
“I’ve isolated myself in a place since. A few minutes ago, I was told that my test was final, and now I am starting medication. I wanted to tell you that… we will definitely be victorious against this virus in the next few weeks,” Harirchi said.
After Harirchi announced he had tested positive, past videos of him emerged on social media where he attended a press conference on Monday. In the video, the deputy health minister coughed occasionally and appeared to be sweating while standing with government spokesman Ali Rabiei.
At the conference, Harirchi denied a lawmaker’s claim that 50 people have died from the virus in the Shiite shrine city of Qom, saying he would “resign” if the number was true.
He also appeared on a talk show on a state-run television channel in which he spoke about the spread of the virus. In the clip, Harirchi was asked about his cough and reportedly said that “maybe I should cover my mouth like this”.
Another lawmaker also tested positive for the virus, but wasn’t as hopeful as the deputy health minister.
“My corona test is positive … I don’t have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world,” Mahmoud Sadeghi, the parliamentarian from Tehran, wrote on Twitter.
The announcement of the two lawmakers declaring they were positive came even as Iran confirmed the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside China.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 (new cases) have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
Worried that official numbers could underestimate the scale of Iran’s outbreak, many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing facts. Authorities ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces, and have urged Iranians to stay home.
Iran has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalised.
Some neighbouring countries have closed their borders with Iran. The United Arab Emirates state media said Dubai International Airport had suspended all flights to and from Iran.
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