On Sunday, the Iranian Ministry of Health increased the death toll from the new coronavirus to 54 while the number of confirmed infected cases jumped from more than half of the day to 978 people.
Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said new cases have been confirmed in a number of cities, including Mashhad, which is home to Iran’s largest Shiite shrine that attracts pilgrims from across the region. The Iranian civil government’s calls to clerics to close these shrines to the public have not been consistently followed. One of those that remained open is the Mashhad Shrine.
The new figures represent 11 more deaths than those reported on Saturday and 385 new cases of infections. However, these new figures bring the percentage of deaths from infections to around 5.5%. However, it is much higher than in other countries, suggesting that the number of infections in Iran could be much higher than current figures show.
Number of “always tilted” cases
Jahanpour said in his daily briefing that the number of cases “still tilted” across Iran.
Of the 385 new confirmed cases, 170 are in Tehran, where schools and cinemas remained closed for the second week. Public buses and the metro are still running, but are disinfected there daily. Authorities also sprayed the busy streets of the capital.
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The ministry spokesman said 44 cases have also been confirmed for the first time in central Markazi province.
Also on Sunday, the Iranian public broadcaster said that all flights to and from the city of Rasht, the capital of the northern province of Gilan, had been suspended. It gave no reason. The Gilan region has one of the highest numbers of infections in Iran after the capital, Tehran, and the holy city of Qom, the epicenter of the country’s virus epidemic.
The Revolutionary Guards have announced plans to set up mobile hospitals in the cities of Qom and Rasht, where the virus has infected large numbers of people. The guard was also photographed in state media leading disinfection efforts in some cities.
“A difficult and dangerous period”
Ali Reza Jalali, the head of the Guard medical college, said on state television that Iran is going through a “difficult and dangerous period”. He said the group was looking for a possible vaccine against the disease.
There is currently no vaccine against the new coronavirus. Researchers around the world are working to find one, but anything that is widely usable is probably in over a year.
The disease, known as COVID-19 and originally from central China, has infected at least seven government officials in Iran, including one of its vice presidents and a senior official in the Ministry of Health.
After days of assurances that the virus is largely under control, authorities recently acknowledged that Iran is preparing for the possibility that “tens of thousands” of people will be tested for the virus.
The first cases were not reported in Iran until February 19, the same day that the two infected elderly people died. Since then, of the more than 1,100 cases in the Middle East, most have gone back to Iran. Cases from Iran have been reported in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
As of Sunday, all UAE crèches licensed by the Ministry of Education have been closed for at least two weeks to limit the spread of the virus, and Kuwait has suspended school until March 12.
Frustration with US policies on Iran
The virus has infected more than 86,000 people worldwide and has left more than 2,900 dead since its appearance in China. Iran has the highest death toll in the world outside of China, where there have been 2,870 deaths among nearly 80,000 cases.
The epidemic in Iran has prompted neighbors to seal their borders with the Iranians, while other Gulf states have halted their flights to Iran. On Saturday, the United States announced an increase in travel warnings in parts of Italy and South Korea, as well as a travel ban in Iran due to the virus.
Ali Ahmadi, a resident of Tehran, said that the United States had already made it difficult for Iranians, including his scientists, to get there.
“Now that the virus has emerged, we expect nothing less from the United States,” he said, expressing widespread frustration with American policies on Iran.
The holiest sites of Islam in Saudi Arabia have been closed to foreign pilgrims to limit the spread of the virus. The kingdom has not reported any virus cases and has halted all flights to and from China and Iran.
One of the most important Shiite shrines in the world in the Iraqi city of Najaf has also closed to Iranian pilgrims after an Iranian student studying there has been confirmed as infected with the virus.
Saeed Moghaddam, also in Tehran, said Iranians were suffering from virus from China
“We are not responsible for the spread of this virus in other countries. We are wrestling with that ourselves, “he said.
Sudanese officials also said on Sunday that the United Arab Emirates is helping to evacuate some 160 Sudanese students from Wuhan, the city at the center of the virus epidemic in China. The evacuation was scheduled for Sunday but was postponed to Tuesday for logistical reasons, they said. It was unclear whether the students would be quarantined upon their return to Sudan or the United Arab Emirates, which also helped to evacuate Yemeni students from Wuhan.