The vice president of Iran is understood to have been infected with coronavirus a day after the country’s health minister confirmed he had tested positive.

A state-owned newspaper said vice president Masoumeh Ebtekar has contracted the deadly infection. Iran has emerged as a major hotspot in the region, with 26 fatalities – the highest death toll outside China.

Yesterday the country announced deputy health minister Iraj Hairichi is one of those infected in Iran. He had given a news conference on Tuesday seeking to play down the danger posed by the virus. He stopped at one point to wipe away sweat from his forehead. He later posted a video online saying he had contracted the disease and had quarantined himself at his home, promising that authorities will bring the virus under control.

Mojtaba Zolnour, the head of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, also appeared in a video posted by Fars news agency saying he had the virus and was in self-quarantine. Seven new deaths were reported in Iran in 24 hours as the spread of coronavirus appeared to accelerate.

Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a press briefing today that 106 more cases of the disease had been confirmed, raising the tally of infections to 245.

Advertisement

Advertisement

On Wednesday, Iranian authorities announced domestic travel restrictions for people with confirmed or suspected infections.

They also placed curbs on access to major Shiite pilgrimage sites, including the Imam Reza shrine in second city Mashhad and the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom.

Visitors to the shrines will be allowed to visit on condition they are provided ‘with hand-washing liquids, proper (health) information, masks’, Health Minister Saeed Namaki told a news conference.

They must ‘not gather together in groups but just pray and leave’, he said.

In affected areas, school closures will be extended for three days, and universities for another week starting from Saturday, he said.

Also in these regions, the main weekly Friday prayers will be suspended, Namaki said.

International health experts have expressed concern about Iran’s handling of the outbreak but Tehran insists the situation has been ‘improving’.

The United Arab Emirates has already banned all flights to and from Iran over the outbreak.

The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.

The flight ban, which will last at least a week, shows the growing concern over the spread of the virus in Iran amid worries the outbreak may be larger than what authorities there now acknowledge.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]

For more stories like this, check our news page.