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COVID-19: Continued fears of a cover up in Iran as 916 suspected cases emerge

From Beirut David G Rose reports that two further deaths in Iran and a dramatic rise in the number of “suspected cases” have renewed fears that the outbreak may have been under-reported.

At least 15 people in Iran have now been confirmed to have died, according to local media - the highest death toll outside China, where the virus originated late last year.

As at Tuesday,the novel coronavirus has claimed three more lives in Iran, taking the country’s overall death toll to 15. Two of those who died were elderly women in the central province of Markazi while another patient died in the northern province of Alborz.

Although Tehran has only confirmed 66 cases of the Covid-19 virus, Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi told Iranian television last night that there were an additional 916 "suspected cases”.

His comments come after the Iranian government denied trying to cover up the full extent of the outbreak, which is centered around the religious city of Qom, near Tehran.

Some social media users blamed Chinese theological students studying in Qom for bringing the virus into Iran, although this has not been confirmed.

Foreign-based journalist Reza Haqiqatnejad quoted the head of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences as blaming "700 Chinese seminary students in Qom" for the spread of coronavirus in the city.

Iran’s health authorities have stressed that most people infected with the virus are not seriously ill and many have made a full recovery. But among the latest confirmed deaths were two people in Saveh, southeast of the Iranian capital.

As public events and schools, universities and sports centres were closed in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, Iranian newspaper front pages reported on the "national mobilisation against corona".

But several Iranian titles today criticised the government's lack of transparency and alleged mismanagement of the problem.

"Why did not you quarantine the city of Qom?" the moderate daily Arman-e Melli asked on its front page.

Reformist Aftab-e Yazd's banner headline read: "The virus of unaccountability is worse than the coronavirus."

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