1206 GMT April 04, 2020
"Thirteen new cases have been confirmed," ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on Twitter. "Unfortunately two of them have lost their lives."
The COVID-19 outbreak first appeared in Iran on Wednesday, when officials said it killed two elderly people in the holy city of Qom, the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.
Jahanpour, said the newly detected cases are all linked with city of Qom where the first two elderly patients died on Wednesday.
The newly reported cases included "seven in Qom, four in Tehran, and two in Gilan" on the Caspian Sea coast, Jahanpour tweeted.
He said the new cases were either from Qom or had visited the city recently. He said four of them have been hospitalized in the capital, Tehran, and two in northern province of Gilan.
"Most of the cases are still either Qom residents" or were people who had come from Qom to other provinces "in recent days and weeks", he added.
The official added that Iran had so far received from the World Health Organization four shipments of medical kits used to detect COVID-19.
Qom is a center for Islamic studies and pilgrims, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.
However, a government official said the first two people who died of the disease had not left Iran.
Following the announcement of those deaths, Iraq on Thursday banned travel to and from Iran.
The Health Ministry in Baghdad said people from Iran had been barred from entering Iraq "until further notice".
Kuwait's national carrier Kuwait Airways also announced it would suspend all of its flights to Iran.
Minou Mohraz, an Iranian Health Ministry official, said the virus “possibly came from Chinese workers who work in Qom and traveled to China.”
A Chinese company has been building a solar power plant in Qom.
Concerns over the spread of the virus, which originated in central China, prompted authorities in Iran this week to close all schools and Shia seminaries in Qom, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Tehran.
Iran had recently evacuated 60 Iranian students from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the epidemic. The students were quarantined upon their return to Iran and were discharged after 14 days without any health problems.
Qom is a popular religious destination and a center of learning and religious studies for Shia Muslims from inside Iran, as well as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Azerbaijan.
Iran has suspended all passenger flights with China for the past two weeks, allowing only cargo flights.
Iran’s civil aviation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said on Thursday that the “cargo flights, if necessary, are under supervision, and controls imposed by the Health Ministry are carried out.”
In Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said officials have started to screen travelers arriving from Iran at border gates and are refusing entry to anyone with signs of illness. He also said Iranians who have traveled to Qom in the past 14 days will be refused entry.
The new virus emerged in China in December. Since then, more than 76,000 people have been infected globally, in as many as 27 countries, with more than 2,200 deaths being reported, mostly in China.
There have been few virus cases in the Middle East so far. Nine cases have been confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, which is a popular tourist destination, and one case in Egypt. Of the nine in the UAE, seven are Chinese nationals, one is a Filipino and another an Indian national.
AFP and AP contributed to this story.