Nineteen people have died and 139 people have been infected by coronavirus in Iran, health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on Wednesday in an announcement on state TV, Reuters informed.
Iran has had the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged in late 2019.
Amid accusations from within Iran of a government cover-up, it’s widely suspected that the number of cases and deaths are higher than officially reported, CNBC adds.
The majority of Iran’s cases have been linked to Qom, a major religious destination for Shiite pilgrims 85 miles south of Tehran, Iranian’s health ministry spokesman said on state television Tuesday. An official from Qom claimed Monday that 50 people had died in the city; Tehran quickly rejected the figure and denied hiding anything.
The virus’s rapid spread in Iran signals a greater risk to the wider region. And Iran’s links to the rest of the Middle East through travel by religious pilgrims and workers — as well as its dire economic situation — make it particularly ill-prepared to handle the intensifying outbreak, regional experts say.
“Iran is perhaps the first example of a high incidence of COVID-19 in a country with relatively weak public health infrastructure,” Hasnain Malik, Dubai-based managing director for frontier markets equity strategy at Tellimer, told CNBC. “Iran has about 1.5 hospital beds per 1000 people, which is about half the level of the U.S. or Saudi Arabia. It is inevitable that we will see more examples across Asia and, perhaps, Africa.”