TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) — Iran put its armed forces on alert on Tuesday to assist health officials in battling the new coronavirus that’s killed at least 77 people, an outbreak that has sickened top officials and pushed even its supreme leader into wearing disposable gloves while trying to reassure the nation.
Even as government officials sit metres away from each other at meetings now in an effort to stop its spread, the virus is ravaging both its civilian leadership.
A top emergency official and at least 23 Members of Parliament reportedly contracted the virus and now suffer from the COVID-19 illness it causes.
Others have died.
There are now over 2,540 cases of the new virus across the Mideast, with 2,336 in Iran alone.
Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Republic.
Experts worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be far greater than current figures show. Meanwhile, a gloved Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sought to minimise the virus while praising the doctors and nurses combating the outbreak. He urged the nation to pray.
“This disaster, in our opinion, is not such a big disaster, there have been and there are bigger disasters than this,” Khamenei said. “Of course I don’t want to downplay the issue, but let’s not exaggerate it much either. Something has happened, it will exist in the country for a time, which hopefully will be short, and then it will go away.” As cases rise exponentially daily, it appears like the virus won’t be going away soon.
Iran stands alone in how the virus has affected its government, even compared to hard-hit China, the epicentre of the outbreak. Worldwide, the virus has infected 90,000 people and caused 3,100 deaths.
The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi on Monday makes him the highest-ranking official within Iran’s leadership to be killed by the virus. State media referred to him as a confidant of Khamenei.
The virus earlier killed Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican Hadi Khosroshahi as well as a recently elected Member of Parliament. Adviser to Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ahmad Tuyserkani died on Monday night from the virus, semi-official media reported.
Those sick include Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar state media reported. Also sick is Head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus Iraj Harirchi, who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.
On Tuesday, lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri told Iranian state television’s Young Journalists Club programme that 23 Members of Parliament had the coronavirus. He urged all lawmakers to avoid the public.