Iran lawmaker says 50 are dead from new coronavirus in city of Qom

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, a lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday, even as the Health Ministry insisted only 12 deaths have been recorded to date in the country.

The new death toll reported by the Qom representative, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, is significantly higher than the latest number of nationwide confirmed cases of infections that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier, which stood at 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state TV.

Health Ministry spokesman Iraj Harirchi rejected the Qom lawmaker’s claims, insisting the death toll from the virus remains at 12. He, however, raised the number of confirmed cases of those infected by the virus to 61, and added that some 900 other suspected cases are being tested.

“No one is qualified to discuss this sort of news at all,” Harirchi said, adding that lawmakers have no access to coronavirus statics and could be mixing figures on deaths related to other diseases like the flu with the new virus, which first emerged in China in December.

Still, the number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.

Neighboring countries have reported infections from travelers from Iran in recent days, prompting several to shut their borders to Iranian citizens.

Authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan, which closed their borders with Iran, on Monday announced their first confirmed coronavirus cases. Kuwait also announced its first case.

The virus has infected more than 79,000 people globally, and caused more than 2,600 deaths, most of them in China. The World Health Organization recently named the illness caused by the virus COVID-19, referring to both coronavirus and its origin late last year.

Iraq said the virus was confirmed in an Iranian student in the Shiite holy city of Najaf who had entered the country before Iraq barred Iranians from entering last week. Separately, a person in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat who had returned from Iran tested positive for the virus, the health ministry there confirmed.

Farahani, the Iranian lawmaker from Qom, was quoted in local media as saying that more than 250 people are quarantined in that city, which is a popular place of religious study for Shiites from across Iran and other countries. He spoke following a session in parliament in Tehran on Monday, and was quoted by ILNA and other semi-official news agencies.

The lawmaker said the 50 deaths date as far back as Feb. 13. Iran first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths in Qom on Feb. 19.

“I think the performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful,” Farahani said, referring to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

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