Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for COVID-19 as the number of confirmed cases spiked again on Saturday, an official said, underscoring the fear both at home and abroad over the outbreak in the Islamic Republic.
The virus has killed 43 people out of 593 confirmed cases in Iran, Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
He disputed a report by the BBC’s Persian service citing anonymous medical officials in Iran putting the death toll at over four times as much.
Yet the number of known cases versus deaths would put the virus’ death rate in Iran at more than 7 percent, much higher than other countries. That has worried experts at the WHO and elsewhere that Iran might be underreporting the number of cases now affecting it.
Yet even as Iran sends spray trucks and fumigators into the streets, officials are still trying to downplay the virus’ reach.
“During these 10 days that we are talking about the coronavirus in the country, more than 480 people of our country has been killed in traffic accidents, but no one noticed them,” Jahanpour said.
The virus has infected more than 85,000 people and caused more than 2,900 deaths since emerging in China. Iran, with 43 people dead, has the world’s highest death toll outside of China.
Of the 730 confirmed cases scattered across the Middle East, the majority trace back to Iran.
Saturday’s new toll of 593 confirmed cases represents a jump of 205 cases — a 52 percent increase from the 388 reported the day before.
Jahanpour has said that large increases in the number of confirmed cases would happen as Iran now has 15 laboratories testing for the virus.
Late on Friday night, a BBC Persian report citing sources within Iran’s medical community put the death toll at at least 210. State television in Saudi Arabia and associated media, as well as Iranian exile groups, seized on the figure amid their wider political disputes with Tehran.
However, Jahanpour said that the report was politically motivated.
It conflated other causes of deaths with the coronavirus and relied on sources without access to Iran’s coronavirus testing labs, he said.
“The queen’s media, BBC Persian, is worried about staying behind Saudi and Albanian networks in the ‘lie competition.’” he said.
Albania is home to the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.
However, at the same news conference, Jahanpour said that “tens of thousands” might seek testing for the coronavirus.
He also encouraged people to continue to avoid mass gatherings — even funerals for those who died of the virus.
Authorities later banned the public from visiting patients at hospitals nationwide, state television reported.
“The safest place is our homes and our cities,” he said. “We have to reduce our visits, even attending to funerals, and of course those people who are mourning, will feel guilty if they find that their ceremony causes the disease to spread.”
However, concerns continue to grow, as online videos showed an angry crowd setting fire to the courtyard of a medical clinic overnight in the southern city of Bandar Abbas.
Semiofficial media reported that those gathered wrongly believed the clinic housed people sick with COVID-19.
Earlier on Saturday, Bahrain threatened legal prosecution against travelers who came from Iran and had not been tested for the virus, and also banned public gatherings for two weeks.
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