Death toll from new virus in Qom is at 50

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, Iran’s semiofficial ILNA news agency reported yesterday.

The new death toll is significantly higher than the latest number of confirmed cases of infections that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier by and which stood at just 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV.

An official from Qom, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, was quoted in ILNA saying that over 250 people are in quarantined in the city.

He said the 50 deaths date as far back as February 13. Iran, however, first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths on February 19.

The new coronavirus originated in China sometime around December. There are concerns that clusters in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.

A policeman and pedestrians wear masks to help guard against the coronavirus, in downtown Tehran, Iran. PHOTO: AP

A top World Health Official expressed concerns yesterday over the virus’ spread. “We are worried about the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in Italy,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO) told a news conference in Stockholm via a video link.

Authorities in Iran have closed schools across much of the country for a second day and as neighbouring countries reported infections from travellers from Iran, prompting several to shut their borders to Iranian citizens.

The number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.

Iranian health officials have not said whether health workers in Qom who first came in contact with infected people had taken precautionary measures in treating those who died of the virus. Iran also has not said how many people are in quarantine across the country overall.

Iran has not yet reported any confirmed cases of the virus in Mashhad, raising questions about how the government is carrying out tests and quarantines.

Iran has confirmed cases so far in five cities, including the capital, Tehran.

A local mayor in Tehran is among those infected and in quarantine.

Iranian travellers with the virus have also been confirmed in Canada, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The outbreak in Iran has centred mostly on the city of Qom, but spread rapidly over the past few days as Iranians went to the polls on Friday for nationwide parliamentary elections, with many voters wearing masks and stocking up on hand sanitiser.

Iran is already facing diplomatic and economic isolation under United States (US) pressure.

The virus threatens to isolate Iran even further as countries shut their borders to Iranians.

Football fans across the country will not be allowed to attend matches, and shows in movie theatres and other venues were suspended until Friday. Authorities have begun daily sanitisation of Tehran’s metro, which is used by some three million people, and public transportation cars in the city.