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Iran’s deputy health minister has coronavirus

Iran’s deputy health minister has tested positive for the new coronavirus disease, as it struggles to contain an outbreak that has killed 15 people.

In a video, Iraj Harirchi said he was self-isolating and starting medication following his diagnosis.

He was seen mopping his brow repeatedly at a news conference on Monday, when he denied the authorities were lying about the scale of the Covid-19 outbreak.

They have reported 95 cases, but the actual number is thought to be higher.

The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the sudden increase in cases in the country is “deeply concerning”.

The regional director of the United Nations (UN) agency was due to fly to Iran on Tuesday, but his departure was delayed.

A WHO spokeswoman said it was finalising the dates of a separate visit to Iran by a technical mission and was also sending medical supplies and additional testing kits that should arrive in the next day or two.

More than 80,000 cases of the Covid-19 respiratory disease have been reported worldwide since it emerged last year. About 2,700 patients have died – the vast majority in China.

The reports that we are receiving from cities around Iran suggest that the number of cases is actually much higher than the Iranian authorities are giving.

Unlike in Italy, Iranian officials are refusing to impose quarantines in areas affected by the outbreak. They say quarantines are old-fashioned and that they do not believe in them.

The Shia shrines in the cities of Qom and Mashhad are still open, despite Qom being a hotbed of the virus.

There are grand ayatollahs in Qom who believe that its shrine, which attracts millions of pilgrims from around the world, and its important seminary, which hosts many foreign religious students, are the pride of the Shia world.

Shutting them down would be a huge step for the clerics and not one that they would likely take unless they come under international pressure.

We can see the clear conflict between religious fundamentalism and science.

Iran also lacks the medical equipment it needs to help contain the outbreak. It has run out of masks and does not have enough testing kits. -BBC

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