Death toll rises to 12, infection cases top 60
Iran's government vowed Monday to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China, dismissing claims the toll could be as high as 50 in one city alone.
The Health Ministry said on Monday that Iran's coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 – by far the highest outside China – as its neighbors closed their borders and imposed strict quarantine measures.
Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, alleged the government was "lying" about the full extent of the outbreak, alleging that "50 deaths" took place in Qom alone.
Farahani did not provide evidence to support his claims but said more than 250 people are quarantined in Qom.
The government rejected his claim that the virus had killed 50 in Qom.
"I categorically deny this information," Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a news conference aired live on TV.
"This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.
He raised the number of confirmed cases of infections to 61, and added that some 900 other suspected cases are being tested.
“No one is qualified to discuss this sort of news at all,” Harirchi said, adding that lawmakers have no access to coronavirus statistics and could be mixing figures on deaths related to other diseases like the flu with the new virus.
The government pledged transparency over the outbreak.
"We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures," government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.
Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it announced the first two deaths in the holy city of Qom on Wednesday last week.
Authorities have since ordered the closure of schools, universities, and other educational centers across the country as a "preventive measure."
A spokesman for Parliament, Assadollah Abbassi, announced the latest four deaths among more than 60 infections after Monday's closed-door gathering of lawmakers.
Citing Health Minister Saeid Namaki, he said that "the causes of coronavirus infections in Iran are people who have entered the country from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China", some of whom illegally.
The worst-hit province for infections is Qom, with 34 cases, according to the Health Ministry figures.
The others are in Tehran with 13 infections, Gilan with six, Markazi with four, Isfahan with two, and one each for Hamedan and Mazandaran.
The health minister said that one person who died of coronavirus in Qom was a businessman who had made several trips to China.
In his remarks to state television on Sunday, Namaki said direct flights between Iran and China were now suspended, but the businessman had traveled there "on a connecting flight."
President Hassan Rouhani on Monday gave directives for handling issues concerning the coronavirus by speeding up the process to stem the disease.
In his phone call with governors general of Gilan and Qom provinces, Rouhani urged the officials to use all facilities to boost people’s confidence in the health system.
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed more than 2,500 people in China.
Iran now accounts for nearly half of the deaths elsewhere in the world, which currently stand at 30.
Many of Iran's neighbors have reported cases of coronavirus in people who had traveled to the Islamic Republic.
Afghanistan on Monday reported its first case in a person who had traveled to Qom.
Iraq announced its first case, an Iranian theology student in the holy city of Najaf, who had entered the country before the government banned the entry of non-Iraqis coming from Iran.
Iraq has shut its border with the Islamic Republic and imposed a travel ban.
Similar preventive measures were imposed by Afghanistan, Armenia, Pakistan, and Turkey.
Qom is a center for Islamic studies and pilgrims, attracting scholars from Iran and beyond.
Kuwait detected the virus in three people among 700 who had been evacuated on Saturday from the Iranian city of Mashhad. Iran, however, has not yet reported any confirmed cases of the virus in Mashhad.
They were a 53-year-old Kuwaiti man, a 61-year-old Saudi man, and a 21-year-old whose nationality was unclear, the Health Ministry said.
In neighboring Bahrain, the Health Ministry said a Bahraini citizen who arrived from Iran had been diagnosed with the disease.
Qatar Airways said it would ask passengers arriving from Iran and South Korea to remain in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days. Qatar has not recorded any coronavirus cases.
The United Arab Emirates has recorded 13 cases, the latest two are an Iranian tourist and his wife.
AFP, AP, Reuters, and IRNA contributed to this story.