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Iran Lawmaker Says Fifty Died Of Coronavirus In Qom Alone, As Crisis Deepens

Commuters wear masks to help guard against coronavirus on a public bus in downtown Tehran, February 23, 2020

A lawmaker from Qom told reporters on Monday that 50 have died in his constituency soon after Iran's Health Minister told a closed session of the Parliament that the number of coronavirus deaths has risen to 12 and 47 had tested positive.

Speaking to reporters on Monday Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani said it is necessary to quarantine Qom. Qom, the epicenter of the outbreak in Iran, is the country's eight-largest city and a pilgrimage destination and the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Amirabadi said the outbreak in Qom started three weeks ago and people had died as early as February 13 but officials did not announce it. According to him 250 patients have been quarantined in Qom and 32 of the deaths have occurred in quarantine.

On Sunday in a tweet Amirabadi also disclosed that the Chancellor of Qom's Medical Sciences University, Dr. Mohammad-Reza Ghadir, had tested positive. He was quarantined on Sunday.

A day earlier in another tweet Amirabadi had criticized the government for "not taking the coronavirus [outbreak] in Qom seriously".​

At a joint press conference with administration Spokesman Ali Rabiee, however, Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi refuted Amirabadi-Farahani's claim and said the only body authorized by the National Security Council (SNC) to give out information and statistics about the situation is the Health Ministry.

Answering a question about forcing a quarantine in Qom, the zero-ground of the outbreak, Harirchi said the Health Ministry does not approve of such measures. He claimed that the Chinese themselves are not happy with the results of forcing a quarantine on Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic in China.

The number of positive cases announced officially has quickly increased since February 20 when two cases of fatality in Qom were announced for the first time. Iran has reported more fatalities from coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, than any other country aside from China.

A day before being quarantined, in a live program on the state-run television Dr. Ghadir had said that the situation in Qom was "critical" and disclosed that higher government officials had ordered local officials not to announce any numbers to the public and control when and how news about the epidemic are released.

In the same program Dr. Ghadir said coronavirus tests can only be done in Tehran and disclosed that several medical staff are infected.

Only two days before testing positive himself, he had tried to calm the public in another program and claimed that coronavirus is not more dangerous than ordinary flu.

All neighboring countries closed their borders with Iran and flights to Turkey, Georgia, Iraq and Kuwait have been cancelled. Information gathered from flightradar24, a flight tracking, however, shows that Iran's Mahan Airline has continued its flights between Tehran and Beijing.

Mahan Airline is partly owned by the Revolutionary Guard and has been strongly criticized in the past two weeks for continuing its China flights after the outbreak in China was reported.

Religious pilgrimages to neighboring Iraq have been suspended, one unnamed official told the semi-official Fars news agency. The Health Ministry has closed schools and universities in several cities, along with movie theaters. Theater and concert events have been cancelled. Professional soccer games will be played as planned but without spectators.