Iranian Coronavirus Cases Jump as More Officials Infected

Iran’s coronavirus cases continue to spike, with more cases confirmed among government officials days before a high-ranking delegation is poised to attend a critical OPEC meeting in Austria.

There were 205 new coronavirus cases in the country, bringing the total count to 593 with 43 fatalities, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpour said. That’s the highest number of deaths from the virus outside of China.

Five Iran MPs have also tested positive out of 100 that were tested, amid a growing number of officials that have contracted the disease. Previously, one of Iran’s vice presidents, Masoumeh Ebtekar, and deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi were confirmed with the virus. Tasnim news agency reported that a lawmaker died of the flu, but said he had not contracted the coronavirus.

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 coronavirus outbreak. Saudi Arabia has pushed for a further cut in production quotas. Austrian authorities Friday ordered that flights from infected areas provide passenger lists to health authorities, but so far travel from Iran is still permitted.

Iran’s oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh is scheduled to travel to Vienna for the meeting. His plans remain in place, according to an official at the ministry in Tehran, who could not be named because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Jahanpour said the death toll had increased by nine since Friday, with 52 new cases identified in the capital Tehran and 21 in Qom, the original center of the outbreak in Iran. He added that the number of suspected cases was higher than what laboratory results have shown.

BBC Persian on Friday said that at least 210 people had died from coronavirus in Iran, a figure that the government rejected.

There is concern that the virus will spread further within the government. A day before confirming she had tested positive for the virus, Ebtekar attended a cabinet meeting with President Hassan Rouhani and other cabinet ministers. Harirchi was shown coughing and sweating in a televised press conference with government spokesman Ali Rabiei a day before announcing his diagnosis.

— With assistance by Golnar Motevalli

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