Tehran: Iran is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for the new coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases spiked again Saturday, an official said, underscoring the fear both at home and abroad over the outbreak in the Islamic Republic.

The virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes have killed 43 people out of 593 confirmed cases in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said. He disputed a report by the BBC’s Persian service citing anonymous medical officials in Iran putting the death toll at over four times as much.

But the number of known cases versus deaths would put the virus’ death rate in Iran at over 7 per cent, much higher than other countries. That’s worried experts at the World Health Organisation and elsewhere that Iran may be underreporting the number of cases now affecting it.

Yet even as Iran sends spray trucks and fumigators into the streets, officials still are trying to downplay the virus’ reach.

“During these 10 days that we are talking about the coronavirus in the country, more than 480 people of our country has been killed in traffic accidents, but no one noticed them,” Jahanpour said.

The virus has infected more than 85,000 people and caused more than 2,900 deaths since emerging in China. Iran, with 43 people dead, has the world’s highest death toll outside of China. Of over 720 confirmed cases scattered across the Mideast, the majority trace back to the Islamic Republic.

Saturday’s new toll of 593 confirmed cases represents a jump of 205 cases – a 52 per cent increase from the 388 reported the day before. Jahanpour has warned that large increases in the number of confirmed cases would happen as Iran now has 15 laboratories testing for the virus.

Late Friday night, a BBC Persian report citing sources within Iran’s medical community put the death toll at least 210. Jahanpour however disputed the report as being politically motivated, conflating other causes of deaths with the coronavirus and relying on sources without access to Iran’s coronavirus testing labs.

“The queen’s media, BBC Persian, is worried about staying behind of Saudi and Albanian networks in the “lie competition”, he said. Albania is home to the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.

However, at the same news conference, Jahanpour suggested “tens of thousands” could seek testing for the coronavirus. He also encouraged people to continue to avoid mass gatherings – even funerals for those who died of the virus.

“The safest place is our homes and our cities,” he said. “We have to reduce our visits, even attending to funerals, and of course those people who are mourning, will feel guilty if they find that their ceremony causes the disease to spread.”

Concerns continue to grow, however, as online videos showed an angry crowd setting fire to the courtyard of a medical clinic overnight in the southern city of Bandar Abbas. Semiofficial media reported those gathered wrongly believed the clinic housed people sick with the new coronavirus.

Iran has rejected as “ridiculous” a US offer to help with its coronavirus outbreak. Tensions have been high between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when US President Donald Trump pulled out from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and reimposed sanctions which have battered the Islamic Republic’s economy. Iranian authorities said the US sanctions were hampering Tehran’s ability to get medical supplies from other countries, something which Washington has denied.


• Iran’s government spokesman will hold his weekly news conference online due to the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, which has the highest death toll outside China.

• The country announced its first infections and deaths from the coronavirus on February 19.

• The death rate among confirmed cases in Iran has been around 10%, compared to around 3% globally.

• Tehran has ordered the shutting of schools until Tuesday and the government has extended the closure of universities and a ban on concerts and sports events for a week.

• Several high-ranking officials, including a vice minister, deputy health minister and five lawmakers, have tested positive for the coronavirus. One lawmaker, elected in Iran’s February 21 polls, has died of the virus.

• The government has asked Iranians to avoid trips to South Korea.

• Iran is set to send a delegation to a critical meeting of Opec ministers starting March 4 as the cartel looks for ways to respond to the potential slump in oil demand triggered by the outbreak. Austrian authorities Friday ordered that flights from infected areas provide passenger lists to health authorities, but so far travel from Iran is still permitted.