TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran's deputy health minister confirmed on Tuesday (Feb 25) that he has been infected with the new coronavirus, amid a major outbreak in the Islamic republic that have fuelled fears of a contagion in the region.
Iraj Harirchi coughed occasionally and appeared to be sweating during a press conference on Monday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei.
At the conference, Harirchi denied a lawmaker's claim that 50 people have died from the virus in the Shi'ite shrine city of Qom, saying he would "resign" if the number proves true.
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."
“I wanted to tell you that... we will definitely be victorious against this virus in the next few weeks,” Harirchi declared.
But he warned Iranians to be careful as the “virus does not discriminate” and infects anyone, regardless of standing.
Following news of his infection, government spokesman Rabiei, who stood by his side on Monday, appeared at another press conference with the country’s industries minister on Tuesday as well as other officials.
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.
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 Teheran, 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.
Gulf states cut Iran links
Gulf countries announced new measures Tuesday to cut links with Iran to prevent the virus from spreading after the confirmation of 20 new cases, all of them people returning from the Islamic republic.
The United Arab Emirates suspended all passenger and cargo flights to Iran after Gulf neighbours Kuwait and Bahrain announced the additional cases of Covid-19.
Over the past two days, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman have reported 29 cases of the novel coronavirus among people returning from pilgrimages to Iran, which is battling the deadliest outbreak outside China.
The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority “suspended all passenger flights and cargo to and from Iran starting today and for one week,” a statement carried by the official WAM news agency said, adding that the ban could be extended.
The UAE has already announced 13 coronavirus cases, all foreigners, including an Iranian couple who had travelled from Iran.
Bahrain’s health ministry said 15 more people – including six Saudi women – had tested positive for the virus after returning to the kingdom from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah in the UAE.
Shortly after, the Bahraini authorities said citizens were banned from travelling to Iran “until further notice”.
In neighbouring Kuwait, three new cases were recorded among Kuwaiti men who had been under quarantine in the emirate after returning from Iran.
Oman, which on Monday reported its first cases of coronavirus, two Omani women who had returned from Iran, reported an additional two cases.
Muscat was making arrangements to bring back its citizens from the Islamic republic, the foreign ministry said, a day after it suspended all flights to and from Iran.