Iran’s deputy health minister has tested positive for coronavirus just one day after holding a press conference and attempting to convince the world the coronavirus outbreak is not as bad as feared.
Iraj Harirchi has been placed into quarantine just one day after sweating heavily and swaying uncomfortably at the press conference.
MailOnline report: The virus’s spread into the health ministry is the latest sign of Tehran’s faltering efforts to contain the outbreak as the official death toll rose to 15 today.
The regime has refused to seal off the holy city of Qom at the centre of the crisis even as pilgrims spread the virus around the Middle East and Iranians face shortages of masks and testing kits.
Even according to official figures, Iran has the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East with at least 95 people now infected – an increase of 34 since yesterday – and three new deaths bringing the toll to 15.
However, there is strong suspicion that the true figures are much higher, with one lawmaker declaring yesterday that 50 people had died in the city of Qom.
Qom, where the virus is believed to have arrived in Iran from China, is a major destination for Shi’ite pilgrims from around the Middle East.
Around 20million pilgrims visit the city every year, and Iran would find it difficult to shut its porous borders with neighbours including Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A series of Middle East governments have imposed travel bans after the virus spread across the region and Turkey today ordered a jet to be diverted on its way from Tehran to Ankara.
But despite the growing crisis, the governor of Qom declared last night that locking down the city was ‘not an appropriate solution’, Iranian media said.
Iranians had been facing shortages of medical supplies even before the new coronavirus broke out in Qom.
The medical shortages kicked in after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018.
Since then, panic has broken out over a lack of face masks, with health experts still unsure exactly how the virus spreads.
Health workers also face a lack of testing kits, meaning that coronavirus cases could go unnoticed for days – allowing the outbreak to spread further.
There are also claims that pharmacies are facing shortages of hand-sanitising gels which could help to contain the outbreak in Qom and around the country.
Washington had exempted humanitarian goods including medicines and medical equipment from its punitive measures.
But purchases of such supplies are hindered by banks being wary of conducting any business with Iran, for fear of falling foul of sanctions themselves.
Qom lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani told a session of parliament in Tehran yesterday that 50 people had died in the holy city.
‘I think the performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful,’ he said, in the most public rebuke of the Iranian regime to date.
Farahani said the 50 deaths in Qom date back to February 13, whereas Iran first officially reported cases of the virus on February 19.
He also claimed that 250 people had been quarantined in the city, which is around 75 miles south of Tehran.
‘None of the nurses have access to proper protective gears,’ Farahani said, adding that some health care specialists had left the city.
‘So far, I have not seen any particular action to confront corona by the administration.’