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Iran Coronavirus Death Toll Climbs With Fatality Ratio Much Higher Than World Average

Iranian women wear protective masks to prevent contracting coronavirus, as they walk in the street in Tehran, Iran February 25, 2020.

Iran announced more COVID-19 coronavirus deaths for a second time on Thursday, pushing the total to 26 which is still disproportionate to the official number of infections at 245, in comparison with China and other countries.

Kianoush Jahanpour, Spokesman of the Health Ministry in his latest update said the death toll and infection cases have risen to 26 and 245, respectively.

According to a chart published earlier on Thursday by the official news agency IRNA, the death toll and number of infected patients stood at 22 and 141. The more recent higher numbers indicates a considerable jump in the number of diagnosed patients in a few hours.

The chart published by IRNA also indicates that 20 of Iran's 31 provinces are now battling with the coronavirus outbreak. Two days earlier, only 11 provinces had reported cases of the illness. The chart also indicates that 54 of the patients diagnosed with coronavirus have recovered.

The virus has so far claimed at least 2,800 lives worldwide, the vast majority of them in mainland China and the total number of global infection cases stands at 82,000. This puts the fatality rate at around 3.4 percent while according to the latest figures announced by Iranian authorities the death to infection ratio is 10.6 percent, nearly three times the global ratio.

Many suspect that the figures announced by Iranian officials are considerably lower than the real figures because authorities are hiding the scope of the crisis.

Map of Iran showing contaminated provinces.
Map of Iran showing contaminated provinces.

For instance, some social media users have pointed out that several foreign pilgrims to the Iranian city of Mashhad have been diagnosed in other countries but Iranian officials deny the city has a corovairus crisis. Mashhad is the second-largest Iranian city, a very important tourist destination and home to a shrine visited by thousands every day.

Canadian researchers have estimated that based on coronavirus cases traveling from Iran to other countries it is statistically possible that 18,000 Iranians have been infected with COVID-19.

President Rouhani reiterated on Wednesday, February 26, that coronavirus should not become an "enemy weapon" that prevents business in Iran. "Corona should not be turned into a weapon of our enemies for shutting down work and production in the country," Rouhani said.

The first case of coronavirus death was reported on February 19.

Many of the patients contaminated with the virus both in Iran and among those who have tested positive in other countries such as Lebanon, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan and Iraq have been to Qom recently. The 11 countries out of the 40 contaminated countries that have so far reported coronavirus infections with connection to Iran have reported that the victims had visited Qom.

Qom, Iran's seventh-largest city and the country's religious capital, is visited by thousands of pilgrims daily but some religious officials in the city have so far strongly resisted the closure of its shrine and Jamkaran, a mosque very popular with pilgrims.

Coronavirus has reportedly struck a cabinet member and several lawmakers. On Thursday it was announced that Masoumeh Ebtekar, Vice-President in Women's Affairs, has tested positive and quarantined herself at home. She had attended a cabinet meeting with the President on Wednesday.

Lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeqi (Sadeghi) who tested positive on Tuesday says he is recovering but another lawmaker said on Thursday that Ahmad Amirabadi, the representative of Qom who on February 24 said 50 people had died in his constituency, is seriously ill now.

Mojtaba Zolnouri, a second representative from Qom who is the Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of parliament, on Thursday announced that he has tested positive and is quarantined.

Chaos appears to be reigning in coronavirus outbreak management. Various government officials make contradictory statements and in some instances health officials appear to be under pressure from other governmental and religious bodies to downplay the situation.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki on Wednesday said his Ministry wanted to close shrines in contaminated cities but had to abide by the decision of the Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus which did not agree to the closure of religious establishments.

The Health Ministry is only one of the members of the Task Force which was formed on February 20 and includes the ministers of health, interior, tourism, transportation, the Cabinet Spokesman and a representative of the Armed Forces General Headquarters.

Religious authorities also resisted the cancellation of Friday prayers until Thursday and said they would hold the prayers with "preventative measures" but they finally relented and announced that the prayers were cancelled in 23 province capitals out of 31, including Tehran, Qom, and Mashhad. The decision to cancel prayers in smaller cities has been referred to governors and health officials.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei released a taped video statement about the coronavirus crisis on his website on February 27. However, in his brief statement Khamenei only thanked healthcare officials and staff and did not make any comments about the extent of the epidemic or the government efforts to contain the crisis.