A staggering 50 people have died in the Iranian city of Qom from the new coronavirus this month, a lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday, even as the Health Ministry insisted only 12 deaths have been recorded to date in the country.
The new death toll reported by the Qom representative, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, is significantly higher than the latest number of nationwide confirmed cases of infections that Iranian officials had reported just a few hours earlier, which stood at 12 deaths out of 47 cases, according to state media.
Health Ministry spokesman Iraj Harirchi rejected the Qom lawmaker’s claims, insisting the death toll from the virus remains at 12.
However, he raised the number of confirmed cases from the virus to 61. Some 900 other suspected cases are being tested, he said.
“No one is qualified to discuss this sort of news at all,” Haririchi said, adding that lawmakers have no access to coronavirus statics and could be mixing figures on deaths related to other diseases like the flu with the new virus, which first emerged in China in December.
Still, the number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.
Farahani, the lawmaker from Qom, was quoted in local media as saying more than 250 people are quarantined in the city, which is a popular place of religious study for Shiites from across Iran and other countries. He spoke following a session in Parliament in Tehran on Monday, and was quoted by ILNA and other semi-official news agencies.
The lawmaker said the 50 deaths date as far back as Feb. 13. Iran first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths in Qom on Feb. 19.
“I think the performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful,” Farahani said, referring to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.
“None of the nurses have access to proper protective gears,” Farahani said, adding that some health care specialists had left the city. “So far, I have not seen any particular action to confront corona by the administration.”
There are concerns that clusters of the new coronavirus in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.
A top World Health Official expressed concerns Monday over the virus’s spread. “We are worried about the situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran and in Italy,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“It is an incredible time. Less than two months ago, the coronavirus was completely unknown to us,” Ghebreyesus said. “The past few weeks has demonstrated just how quickly a new virus can spread around the world and cause widespread fear and disruption.”
The outbreak in Iran has centered mostly in the city of Qom, but spread rapidly over the past few days as Iranians went to the polls on Friday for nationwide parliamentary elections, with many voters wearing masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer.
Authorities in Iran have closed schools across much of the country for a second day. Authorities have begun daily sanitization of Tehran’s metro, which is used by some 3 million people, and public transportation cars in the city.
Iranian health officials have not said whether health workers in Qom who first came in contact with infected people had taken precautionary measures in treating those who died of the virus. Iran also has not said how many people are in quarantine across the country overall.