Iran says 2 dead after testing positive for coronavirus

Deaths in city of Qom come shortly after Iranian state media confirmed the first 2 cases of the COVID-19 virus in the country

Iranian women walk past electoral posters and fliers during the last day of election campaign in Tehran on February 19, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Iranian women walk past electoral posters and fliers during the last day of election campaign in Tehran on February 19, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Two people have died in Iran after testing positive on Wednesday for the new coronavirus, the Iranian health ministry said, in the Islamic Republic’s first cases of the disease.

IRNA quoted Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to the country’s health minister, as saying that both of the victims had been carrying the coronavirus and were located in Qom, about 140 kilometers (86 miles) south of the capital Tehran. No additional details were released.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian authorities confirmed the first two cases of the virus, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

ISNA quoted an official in the country’s health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour, as saying that “since the last two days, some suspected cases of the new coronavirus were found.”

The new virus emerged in China in December. Since then, more than 75,000 people have been infected globally, with more than 2,000 deaths being reported, mostly in China.

The virus causes the illness that the World Health Organization recently named COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

Israeli Professor Galia Rahavm in one of the rooms where Israelis returning from China will stay under observation and isolation to control the spread of the coronavirus, at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on February 19, 2020. (Heidi Levine/AFP)

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing more than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

First detected in China, the virus is believed to have originated in a type of wild animal sold at a market to be consumed as food.

Iran has applied safety measure on arrival flights at its airports to control a possible spread of the virus.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, nine cases have been confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, seven of them Chinese nationals, one Indian and one Filipino, while Egypt’s Health Ministry confirmed its first case last Friday.

Three Israelis aboard the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship anchored off Japan, have tested positive for the disease. There were another 12 Israelis on the ship, two of whom disembarked Wednesday, who so far are not known to have contracted the disease.

Israeli media said the 10 remaining non-infected Israelis would only leave the ship on Thursday, and that all would disembark by 6 p.m. (Japan time). They are set to depart for Israel three hours later after Japanese authorities agreed for them to be taken to a plane that will fly them home.

They will first be tested to make sure they are not infected with the deadly virus, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

A bus carrying passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship leaves a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, February 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman instructed the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer to prepare to take the Israelis into quarantine upon their arrival in the country. They will be kept in a separate unit and monitored by medical staff assigned solely for that purpose, the ministry added.

Also Wednesday, inspectors in protective suits went door-to-door in the epicenter of China’s viral outbreak to try to find every infected person in an epidemic that is showing signs of waning as new cases fell for a second straight day.

The city of Wuhan, where the new form of coronavirus emerged, was in the final day of a campaign to root out anyone with symptoms whom authorities may have missed so far.

Mainland China reported 1,749 new cases and 136 additional deaths. While the overall spread of the virus has been slowing, the situation remains severe in Hubei province, whose capital is Wuhan. Infections in Hubei constitute more than 80% of the country’s 74,185 total cases and 95% of its 2,004 deaths, according to data from China’s National Health Commission.

Cities in Hubei with a combined population of more than 60 million have been under lockdown since the Lunar New Year holiday last month, usually the busiest time of the year for travel. Authorities put a halt to nearly all transportation and movement except for quarantine efforts, medical care, and delivery of food and basic necessities. “Wartime” measures were implemented in some places, with residents prevented from leaving their apartments.

Medical personnel walk among patients with mild symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Fangcai Hospital set up in a sports stadium in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, February 18, 2020. (Stringer/AFP)

The stringent measures have followed public fury over Hubei authorities’ handling of the outbreak when it began in December. The risk of human-to-human transmission was downplayed, and doctors who tried to warn the public were reprimanded by police. Wuhan residents reported overcrowding in hospitals and futile attempts to seek treatment.

Many countries have also set up border screenings and airlines have canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused about 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Five deaths have been reported outside the mainland — in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France.

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