Iran Raises Death Toll to 54 From New Coronavirus

One Iranian lawmaker is among those who have died from the disease as officials urge Iranians to stay home

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People wear masks to help guard against the coronavirus in downtown Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2020
People wear masks to help guard against the coronavirus in downtown Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2020Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi,AP

Iran's health ministry raised on Sunday the nationwide death toll from the new coronavirus to 54 as the number of infected cases jumped overnight to 978 people.

One Iranian lawmaker, elected in Feb. 21 polls, is among those who have died from the disease. 

The ministry's spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said new cases were confirmed in a number of cities, including Mashhad, which is home to Iran's most important Shiite shrine that attracts pilgrims from across the region. Calls by Iran's civilian government to clerics to close such shrines to to the public have not been uniformly followed. The shrine in Mashhad is among those that have remained open.

The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday and a whopping 385 new cases of infections. The new numbers, however, bring down the percentage of deaths to infections from 20% to around 5.5%. Still, that is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections may also be much higher.

Jahanpour said in his daily briefing that the number of cases is "still inclining" across Iran and urged people to stay home. 

Also on Sunday, Iran's state broadcaster said all flights to the city of Rasht, the capital of nothern Gilan province, had been suspended. It gave no reasons why. The area of Gilan has some of Iran's highest number of infections after the capital, Tehran, and the holy city of Qom, the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the country.

The illness, known as COVID-19 and that originated in central China, has infected at least seven government officials in Iran, including one of its vice presidents and a senior health ministry official.

Iran has said it is preparing for the possibility of “tens of thousands” of people getting tested for the virus behind the outbreak.

Of the more than 1,100 cases in the Middle East, the majority trace back to the Islamic Republic.

The virus has infected more than 86,000 people worldwide and caused more than 2,900 deaths since emerging in China. Iran has the world’s highest death toll outside of China.

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