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The head of Iran's counter-coronavirus task force, Iraj Harirchi, left, wipes his face during a press briefing with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, in Tehran on February 24. Harirchi has tested positive for the virus himself. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: As presidents and prime ministers around the world seek ways to thwart the fast-spreading coronavirus, some leaders themselves have fallen prey to the disease.

Iranian Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar has become the highest ranking official in her country to be infected with the coronavirus, while Mongolia's president and senior officials have placed themselves under quarantine after a visit to China. Ebtekhar, who advises Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on family and women’s matters, was placed under quarantine, state news in Tehran reported on Thursday. Ebtekar’s case was said to be mild and she has not been hospitalised.

Ebtekhar, who advises Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on family and women’s matters, was placed under quarantine, state news in Tehran reported on Thursday. Ebtekar’s case was said to be mild and she has not been hospitalised.

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Iranian Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar has been diagnosed with the coronavirus infection. Image Credit: AP

Iran reported 388 cases and eight more deaths, taking the total death toll to 34 on Friday. Saeed Namaki, the country’s health minister, said he expects “an upward trajectory” in confirmed coronavirus cases in the next few days. The country has shut universities and public spaces for another week.

Iranian state TV reported that the country’s parliament has suspended sessions indefinitely. Iran also cancelled the main congregational Friday prayers in Tehran and 22 major cities for the first time in decades in a bid to check the spread of the disease.

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A Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson said on Friday that China had delivered a batch of test kits to Iran to fight the virus outbreak and would actively consider if the Iranian side had further needs.

The Russian embassy in Tehran suspended its consular services until further notice due to the coronavirus.

Senior leaders

Besides Ebtekar, the other Iranian officials infected include: Mojtaba Zonnour, a member of Parliament from Qom and head of Parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee; Mahmoud Sadeqi, a member of Parliament from Tehran; Iraj Harirchi, the deputy health minister who had been leading the effort to contain the coronavirus; Morteza Rahmanzadeh, the mayor of a Tehran district; Dr Mohamad Reza Ghadir, head of coronavirus management in Qom and director of the city’s state medical university, and Hadi Khosroshahi, a prominent cleric and former ambassador to the Vatican, according to New York Times.

Tests were carried out on 30 deputies in the Iranian parliament, said Mohammad Ali Vakili, an Iranian member of parliament. The parliament includes 290 deputies.

Mongolia president

Mongolia’s President Battulga Khaltmaa and other government officials submitted to a 14-day quarantine as a precautionary measure after returning home from their visit to China, the state news agency Montsame reported on Friday.

Mongolia president Khaltmaagiin Battulga
Mongolia’s President Battulga Khaltmaa, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 27. Image Credit: AP

Battulga is the first head of state to visit China since the country began implementing special measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak in January.

He arrived in Beijing with Foreign Minister Tsogtbaatar Damdin and other senior government officials on Thursday, and held a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

They were taken into quarantine as soon as they arrived in Mongolia as a precautionary measure, Montsame said.

Fears of pandemic

The rapid rise in coronavirus raised fears of a pandemic on Friday, with five countries reporting their first cases, the World Health Organisation warning it could spread worldwide and Switzerland cancelling the giant Geneva car show.

Hopes that the epidemic that started in China late last year would be over in months, and that economic activity would quickly return to normal, have been shattered as the number of international cases has spiralled. “The outbreak is getting bigger,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva.

New cases

The number of new coronavirus cases in the world rose to 83,853, including 2,873 deaths, across 56 countries and territories by 1300 GMT on Friday.

- with inputs from agencies