Iran now has the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside China, with 95 infections, 16 deaths, and even the country’s deputy health minister has tested positive for the deadly infection.
Over the past days, Iran has reported a sudden spike in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, which were traced back to the holy city of Qom. On Feb.19, the country reported two more deaths, but it was not until Feb. 22 that schools and universities were closed.
Qom, Iran. Image Credit: SevenMaps / Shutterstock
The Iranian government has denied trying to cover up the full extent of the outbreak in the country, with the deputy health minister denying the claim of a parliamentarian that there were 50 deaths.
Health officials and authorities have promised to be transparent about reporting the death toll tied to the novel coronavirus. Amid this crisis, the deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, then tested positive for the virus.
On Feb. 24, Harirchi has appeared to be coughing and sweating during a news conference in Tehran, along with Ali Rabiei, the country’s spokesman. During the news conference, he downplayed the spread of the virus and said mass quarantines were not needed.
A day after, he posted a video on social media, saying he had contracted the virus.
Bustling tourist attraction
Qom is a bustling city with over a million people, receiving approximately 22.5 million visitors every year. If the government wants to contain the spread of the virus, shutting down this region in the country is crucial. However, Qom remains open, and people continue to pass through it in massive numbers. This poses a significant threat to the broader region. Iran is connected to the rest of the Middle East through travel by workers and religious pilgrims. Further, due to its economic state and dilapidated health system, it is ill-prepared to face and handle an escalating outbreak.
“Iran is perhaps the first example of a high incidence of COVID-19 in a country with relatively weak public health infrastructure,” Hasnain Malik, Dubai-based managing director for frontier markets equity strategy at Tellimer, told CNBC.
Also, Iran has an estimated 1.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people, which is half the level of Saudi Arabia and the United States.
“We will inevitably see more examples across Asia and, perhaps, Africa,” Malik added.
Meanwhile, four new member states, including Oman, Iraq, Bahrain, and Afghanistan, have reported COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours. Kuwait has also confirmed that a woman has tested positive for coronavirus after returning from Iran, bringing the number of confirmed cases to nine.
The World Health Organization (WHO), over the past few weeks, has feared that if the virus has spread to a country with a weak health system, it can cause a catastrophe, making it more difficult to contain the spread of the virus.
Globally the number of confirmed cases sits at 80,994, while the death toll reaches 2,760. South Korea has the highest number of infections outside of China, and Iran has the most number of deaths next to China.