Iran’s deputy health minister said he has contracted the coronavirus and placed himself in isolation, a day after appearing feverish at a press conference in which he downplayed its spread in the shrine city of Qom and said mass quarantines were unnecessary.
Iraj Harichi posted a video on social media on Tuesday acknowledging he had caught the virus, which appears to be taking rapid hold in parts of Iran. The news has underscored widespread fears that the outbreak may have passed a tipping point, before authorities had been able to gauge its full extent.
Images of one of the country’s most senior public health officials appearing sweaty and pale and acknowledging he had contracted the disease left many Iranians deeply troubled and are likely to further paralyse a county reeling from its rapid onset. In the short video, Hirachi acknowledged that “many may get infected” echoing concerns that have taken root in the rest of the Middle East, which is home to millions of people living in densely packed refugee camps.
“I wanted to tell you that I got corona,” said Harichi. “I had a fever yesterday. The tests came back positive last night. I isolated myself. Just a few moments ago, I was told that the final test came. I’ll start taking medicine. Generally, I feel fine. I just felt a bit tired, I had a fever, and it will drop.
“Be sure with the effort of the medical staff and ministry of health headed by the [health minister] and with your support and the state and military within the coming weeks, we’ll be victorious against this virus.
“We’ll defeat corona. Be assured. I’m saying this deep from my heart. This virus is democratic, and it doesn’t distinguish between poor and rich or statesman and an ordinary citizen.
“Many might get infected, but we have enough effective medicine, take care of yourselves. Take care of the nurses and doctors who work heroically.”
Iran has become the regional focal point of fears surrounding coronavirus. Neighbouring states have largely shut their borders and suspended pilgrimage routes. Schools and universities in many parts of the country have been closed. Four new cases were suspected to have been diagnosed in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Tuesday. If confirmed, it would take the national tally to five cases, a number that is widely expected to rise, possibly substantially, in the coming days. Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman also reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran.
Meanwhile, Turkey diverted a plane from Tehran, which had been destined for Istanbul, to its capital Ankara, after 17 passengers were reported to have higher than average temperatures.
Additional reporting: Mohammed Rasool