The coronavirus has killed two Iranian citizens, state media reports, marking the first such deaths in the Middle East since the outbreak began.
The elderly victims were first announced to be suffering with the virus, named Covid-19, on Wednesday morning.
Officials said hours later that both patients – one of whom was an Iran-Iraq war veteran subjected to Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks – had died as a result of respiratory problems.
The virus has now claimed more than 2,000 lives globally since the outbreak began in China’s Hubei province in December. It has since infected more than 75,000 people worldwide.
However, the virus has struggled to reach the Middle East and Africa, with only one case in Egypt and another nine in the United Arab Emirates known of until the two now-deceased sufferers in Iran were discovered on Wednesday.
Irna quoted Kiyanoush Jahanpour, an Iranian health ministry official, as saying that “since last two days, some suspected cases of the new coronavirus were found”.
BBC Persian reported that 25 people suspected of having possibly contracted the virus are currently being quarantined in the same hospital in Qom as the two deceased patients.
Iran has applied safety measures on arrival flights at its airports to control a possible spread of the virus.
In the United Arab Emirates, seven of the nine confirmed sufferers are Chinese nationals, one is Indian and the other Filipino.
Egypt’s Health Ministry only identified its sole case as a foreigner who is carrying the virus but not showing any serious symptoms. The ministry said the person was in hospital and in isolation.
The case in Egypt was also the first on the African continent, where countries’ leaders have expressed concern that should the virus spread there, it might wreak havoc among less developed countries with fewer health resources.
Additional reporting by PA