Iran’s virus death toll reaches 124 as new cases total 1,234

Medics work in a quarantine ward for coronavirus infected patients at a hospital in Tehran. (AP pic)

TEHRAN: Iran on Friday announced a surge in coronavirus cases and 17 more deaths including an advisor to the foreign minister, raising the total number of people killed to 124.

The Islamic republic is battling the world’s deadliest outbreak of the disease outside China where it originated.

Iran has confirmed 1,234 new cases over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to 4,747, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference.

The new cases “are probably those who had been infected with the virus two weeks ago and… just came to us with symptoms,” he added.

Several politicians or government officials are among those who have been killed by the disease in Iran.

Hossein Sheikholeslam, an adviser to Iran’s foreign minister who took part in the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis, died from the virus late Thursday, state news agency IRNA reported.

A former ambassador to Syria, he also served as deputy foreign minister from 1981 to 1997.

Sheikholeslam was also one of the students involved in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, when they stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.

This prompted Washington to sever diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980.

The hostages were freed in January 1981, after 444 days in captivity

Iran has tested more than 15,980 people for novel coronavirus since it emerged in the country, Jahanpour said.

“The number of those who have recovered from the disease has reached more than 913,” he added.

Gifting the virus

Iran has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which has infected people in all 31 of its provinces.

Jahanpour said Tehran has 1,413 confirmed cases so far, which is the highest among all provinces and makes it an “epicentre” for the virus.

He bemoaned the “heavy traffic in the north of the country” as Iranians flock to popular tourist spots “despite numerous warnings and all the threats this poses.”

“Please, do not travel to northern provinces . . . by doing this you are gifting the virus to your family and friends,” Jahanpour said.

The country has closed schools and universities until early April in a bid to contain the virus, but according to the official, the long holidays ahead appear to have prompted people to travel north.

Iran has not officially quarantined any province, but it has tried to limit domestic movement and set up checkpoints across the country.

It stepped up restrictions on Friday as the police announced all people travelling to Mazandaran and Gilan — other than residents of those provinces returning from elsewhere — will be turned back.

Gilan is one of the country’s worst-hit provinces.

Six of those who died from the virus are politicians or government officials.

Before his death, Sheikholeslam was an adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Other officials who have died of coronavirus include lawmaker Mohammad Ali Ramezani and Mojtaba Pourkhanali, an agriculture ministry official, both from Gilan.

The others were Ahmad Toyserkani, an adviser to the judiciary chief, Hadi Khosroshahi, a former envoy to the Vatican, and Mojtaba Fazeli, a secretary to a senior cleric.

Tehran lawmaker Fatemeh Rahbar is in a coma after being infected, according to the ISNA news agency.

A host of other officials have been infected and are under quarantine, including vice-president Masoumeh Ebtekar, deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi and grand ayatollah Musa Shobairi Zanjani, who is considered one of Iran’s highest religious authorities.