IRAN’S DEPUTY HEALTH MINISTER TESTS POSITIVE AS OUTBREAK OF CORONAVIRUS WORSENS

IRAN’S deputy health minister and an MP have both tested positive for the new coronavirus disease, as it struggles to contain an outbreak that has killed 16, increasing its international isolation.

The senior health official, Iraj Harirchi, said in a video that he was self-isolating and starting medication.

He was seen mopping his brow repeatedly at a news conference on Monday, when he denied the authorities were lying about the scale of the Covid-19 outbreak.

They have reported 95 cases, but the actual number is thought to be higher.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday said the U.S. was deeply concerned that Iran may have covered up details about the spread of coronavirus. He called on all nations to tell the truth about the epidemic.

“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” he said.

Pompeo told reporters, that he criticised Beijing for what he characterised as the censorship of media and medical professionals.

A new coronavirus case was confirmed yesterday in Palermo, Sicily, pointing to the spread of the virus to southern Italy, hours before a meeting of European health ministers was due to take place.

A woman from Bergamo, a town in the coronavirus-infected region of Lombardy, tested positive for the virus, Sicilian President Nello Musumeci wrote on Facebook, the woman was part of a tour group visiting Palermo.

Italian media were also reporting a new case in Florence, Tuscany, The Region of Tuscany said it would issue information shortly.

On Monday evening, there were a total of 229 cases of infection in Italy, mostly in Lombardy, which includes Italy’s business and fashion capital of Milan, and in Veneto, the region around Venice.

In Rome, talks were scheduled between the Italian foreign and health ministers, and health ministers from Austria, France, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany and Croatia.

The EU ministers are hoping to coordinate a response to the crisis, amid talk of reintroducing controls on Italy’s borders, suspending Europe’s free-travel Schengen rules, to limit the contagion.

“The coronavirus epidemic has arrived as an epidemic in Europe,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday in Berlin. “Therefore, we must accept that it could spread to Germany as well.”

However, there was no indication that Germany was planning to close any borders.

The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the sudden increase in cases in the country is “deeply concerning”.

More people have died in Iran from the virus than anywhere else outside China.

It is one of three global hot-spots causing great concern among health experts that the virus could be developing into a pandemic. The others are South Korea and northern Italy, where cases have surged in recent days.

Yesterday, an MP from the Iranian capital Tehran, Mahmoud Sadeghi, also said he had tested positive for the virus.

“I don’t have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world,” the 57-year-old tweeted.

More than 80,000 cases of the Covid-19 respiratory disease have been reported worldwide since it emerged last year. About 2,700 patients have died – the vast majority in China.

But the situation in Iran – home to holy sites that attract millions every year and in a region where several countries have weak health systems – has caused great concern about a mass outbreak in the Middle East.

Dozens of countries from South Korea to Italy accelerated emergency measures to curb the epidemic’s global spread.

Believed to come from wildlife in Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed 2,663 in China. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the epidemic there has peaked and has been declining since Feb. 2.

Beyond mainland China, however, it has jumped to about 29 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

“We are close to a pandemic but there is still hope,” said Raina MacIntyre, head of a biosecurity programme at the University of New South Wales, using the term for a widespread global epidemic.

Global stocks sank to their lowest levels in over two months yesterday in anxiety over the coronavirus’ spread and its damage to the world economy.

Iran’s outbreak, amid mounting U.S. sanctions pressure, threatens to leave it further cut off. Several countries suspended flights due to cases in travellers from Iran to Canada, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.

Some neighbours also closed borders, while Oman’s Khasab port halted imports and exports with Iran.

“It is an uninvited and inauspicious visitor. God willing we will get through … this virus,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech.

Iran canceled concerts and soccer matches nationwide, and schools and universities closed in many provinces. Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing facts.

Authorities say U.S. sanctions are hampering its response to the coronavirus by preventing imports of masks and medicines.

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