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Fourth senior Iranian official tests positive for coronavirus

Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar in Tehran, Iran on 20 January 2019 [Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency]
Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar in Tehran, Iran on 20 January 2019 [Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency]

Update 14:30 (GMT)

Iran's Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar has become the country's fourth official to be diagnosed with coronavirus, state media has reported.

She is among 254 people infected with the virus in the Middle Eastern nation, where 26 people have been killed by the outbreak.

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The chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, Mojataba Zolnour, has become the third high-profile official in the country to test positive for coronavirus. "My test has come out positive… there is nothing to worry about. I am in quarantine now. God willing our people will defeat the coronavirus," explained Zolnour.

His diagnosis follows that of Deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, and an MP, Mahmoud Sadeghi, who have also contracted the virus, known medically as COVID-19. On Tuesday, Harirchi confirmed after an appearance at a press conference that he has the virus. Footage of the media event showed him coughing during an interview as he was discussing the epidemic.

"We'll defeat coronavirus," said Harirchi. "Be assured. I'm saying this deep from my heart. This virus is democratic, and it doesn't distinguish between poor and rich or statesman and an ordinary citizen. Many might get infected, but we have enough effective medicine, take care of yourselves. Take care of the nurses and doctors who work heroically."

Also in a tweet on Tuesday, lawmaker Sadeghi confirmed his positive status, saying, "I send this message in a situation where I have little hope of surviving in this world." However, he has since posted a video online to say that he is feeling fine despite testing positive. In separate tweets at the request of families, he also urged the government to allow political prisoners to leave prison facilities to help prevent the spread of the disease.

READ: More flights cancelled by Gulf States as new coronavirus cases hit the region

Iran said its death toll from coronavirus had risen to 26 with the total number of infected people currently standing at 245. "In the last 24 hours, we have had 106 (new) confirmed cases. The death toll has reached 26," Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpour told state TV, calling on Iranians to avoid "unnecessary trips inside the country."

The New York Times reported that Iran is fast becoming a second focal point after China over the spread of the virus. Cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, the UAE and Canada have all been traced to Iran. Pakistan has also confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus amid reports that it has started to quarantine pilgrims returning from the Iranian holy city of Qom. Pakistan has already sealed its border with Iran.

READ: Coronavirus: Kuwait has suspended schools for two weeks

The Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom, which is visited by millions of Shia Muslim pilgrims every year from all over the world, is seen by many as a miraculous source of recovery and healing. Shia clerics are reluctant to see it shut down due to the outbreak.

In a related issue, the BBC reported that an Iranian medical importer has said that he is unable to purchase virus testing kits due to US-imposed sanctions. The US has denied that its sanctions are restricting Iran's ability to import medical supplies, but Iran says companies find it difficult to process payments with banks unwilling to risk breaking US rules and thus risk sanctions themselves.

The coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries, killing around 2,700 people in China alone. There is mounting alarm due to new outbreaks in the Middle East and Asia. Italy has become the main focal point of the virus in Europe with the number of cases rising to 400.

READ: Jordan bans entry of travellers from Iran, South Korea after coronavirus outbreak

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