Coronavirus: Iran deputy health minister looks visibly unwell in press briefing before diagnosis

Vincent Wood

Iran’s deputy health minister, who has now tested positive for coronavirus, appears to have been suffering from a fever during a press conference in which he said his government was not attempting to cover up the scale of the problem in the country.

Iraj Harichi, who took the lead on the nation’s coronavirus response only to contract the virus himself, has been placed under quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19, which has so far killed 16 people in the country and almost 2,700 people across the globe.

He is among 95 who have contracted the virus within the Middle Eastern country, which has experienced the highest death toll related to the illness outside of China, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

However just a day beforehand he appeared in a press conference to “categorically deny” claims the nation was misleading the world about the scale of the outbreak.

While updating the death toll and infection rate within the country and claiming the situation was "almost stable", he added: “This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem.”

His comments were a rebuke of lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, who said there had been 50 related deaths in his province of Qom alone.

However throughout the press conference Mr Harichi could be seen profusely sweating, repeatedly removing his glasses to dab his forehead. A high temperature is among the symptoms of the disease, which has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide.

Speaking after his illness was confirmed, the deputy health minister said: “I wanted to tell you that I got corona.

“I had a fever yesterday. The tests came back positive last night. I isolated myself. Just a few moments ago, I was told that the final test came. I’ll start taking medicine. Generally, I feel fine. I just felt a bit tired, I had a fever, and it will drop.

His confirmation came alongside that of parliamentarian Mahmoud Sadeghi, who wrote on Twitter "My corona test is positive ... I don't have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world”.

The nation’s response to the outbreak has come under close scrutiny from officials across the globe after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned the illness could be disastrous in country's with underdeveloped healthcare systems.

Iran's healthcare system has also suffered under years of US sanctions.

The WHO’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday the spread into Iran and Italy had been “deeply concerning”, adding that the agency was seeing “epidemics in different parts of the world, affecting countries in different ways and requiring a tailored response”

A day later US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said Washington was "deeply concerned" Iran may have covered up details about the spread of coronavirus, while calling on all nations to "tell the truth".

Transparency has been high on the agenda for nations following the spread of SARS, also a coronavirus, in 2003 which is thought to have been exacerbated by the Chinese state’s cover up of the initial spread.

"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 criticized Beijing for allegedly censoring media and medical professionals.

"All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations," he added.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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