TEHRAN: Iran on Saturday ordered the closure of schools, universities and cultural centres after a coronavirus outbreak that has killed five people in the Islamic republic — the most outside the Far East.
The moves came as Iranian authorities reported one more death among 10 new cases of the virus.
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed 2,345 people in China, the epicentre of the epidemic, and 17 elsewhere in the world.
The COVID-19 outbreak in Iran first surfaced on Wednesday, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital. They were the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.
“We have 10 new confirmed cases of COVID-19,” Iran’s health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told state television on Saturday.
“One of the new cases has unfortunately passed away,” he added, noting that eight of them had been hospitalised in Qom and two in Tehran, without specifying where the death occurred.
The latest cases take to 28 the total number of confirmed infections in Iran.
Based on official figures, nearly 18 percent of those infected with the new coronavirus in Iran have died, compared with little more than three percent in China.
As a “preventive measure”, authorities ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in Qom and the nearby city of Arak from Sunday, state television reported.
The government also announced that “all art and cinema events in halls across the country have been cancelled until the end of the week” in order to stop infections.
Iranians have been snapping up surgical face masks in a bid to avoid catching the virus.
Online retailer Digikala — Iran’s equivalent of Amazon — said on Friday that it had sold 75,000 masks within 36 hours.
The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the speed at which COVID-19 has spread in Iran, as well as it being exported from the Islamic republic to other countries including Lebanon.
“The concern is… that we have seen an increase in cases, a very rapid increase in a matter of a few days,” said Sylvie Briand, director of the WHO’s global infectious hazard preparedness department.
“We are just wondering about also the potential of more exported cases in the coming days,” she added. The Iranian outbreak emerged in the lead-up to a parliamentary election on Friday. State media said the disease had failed to dampen “the revolutionary zeal of Qom’s people” to turn out to vote.