Iran's deputy health minister tests positive for coronavirus

David Rose

Iran's deputy health minister has tested positive for coronavirus, just hours after he appeared on television to insist the Iranian government had the outbreak under control.

Iraj Harirchi was seen coughing and appeared to be sweating during a televised press conference last night, as he commented on a rising number of Covid-19 cases and related deaths in the Islamic republic.  

An Iranian parliamentarian representing Tehran, Mahmoud Sadeghi, has also revealed that he had tested positive for the virus in a post on Twitter.

"My corona test is positive... I don't have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world," he wrote. 

The diagnoses come as Iranians were urged to stay at home as the official number of coronavirus infections rose to 95 – with at least 15 related deaths – amid fears that the full extent of the outbreak could be much higher.   

Iraj Harirchi, left, speaks at a press briefing with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, in Tehran, Iran. - Iranian Presidency Office via AP

In the press conference, Mr Harirchi told reporters there could be up to 900 additional "suspected cases”, before it emerged that he was himself infected today. 

"The coronavirus test for Mr Harirchi, the deputy health minister who was on the front lines combating the coronavirus, was positive," Alireza Vahabzadeh, a media adviser to the health minister, said in a tweet. 

His comments come after the Iranian government denied trying to cover up the full extent of the outbreak, which is centred around the religious city of Qom, near Tehran.   

"It will be safer for people to stay at home. There were 34 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, including 16 people in Qom city," health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told state television today.

Some social media users blamed Chinese theological students studying in Qom for bringing the virus into Iran, although this has not been confirmed.    

Foreign-based journalist Reza Haqiqatnejad quoted the head of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences as blaming "700 Chinese seminary students in Qom" for the spread of coronavirus in the city.

Iran’s health authorities have stressed that most people infected with the virus are not seriously ill and many would make a full recovery. But among the latest confirmed deaths linked to coronavirus included two elderly women in the northern province of Alborz and another patient in the central province of Markazi, state news agency IRNA said.

Of the new confirmed cases, Mr Jahanpour said 16 people in Qom, nine people in Tehran, one in Fars, two in Mazandaran, two in Gilan, one in Neyshabour, two in Alborz and one in Qeshm has so far been affected.

Most of the cases had been linked to travel to Qom, which is a centre of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims, he added.

As public events and schools, universities and sports centres were closed in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, the World Health Organisation announced that it will provide Iran with extra testing kits for Covid-19.  

The United Arab Emirates yesterday said it was suspending all flights to and from Iran to try and limit the spread of the virus, following the approach taken by Kuwait, Oman and Iraq.