Iranian anti-coronavirus task force chief tests positive for virus

By Associated Press Reporters

The head of Iran’s counter-coronavirus task force has tested positive for the virus himself.

The announcement regarding Iraj Harirchi came after he gave a news conference with journalists in Tehran about the virus just one day previously, which had sought to minimise the danger posed by the outbreak.

Mr Harirchi had been sweating and looked uncomfortable during the conference.

He has posted an online video admitting that he has the virus, and that he has quarantined himself at his home. Mr Harirchi promised that authorities would bring the virus under control.

However, having the top official in charge of stopping the virus becoming sick with it is just the latest woe to befall Iran as the UAE cut off Iranian flights from the country.

The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people. The flight ban, which will last at least a week, shows the growing concern over the spread of the virus in Iran amid worries the outbreak may be larger than what authorities there now acknowledge.

The Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority made the announcement via the country’s state-run WAM news agency, just hours after Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, said there would be restrictions on flights there.

Iraj Harirchi, left, became ill after a press conference seeking to minimise the danger posed by the outbreak (Iranian Presidency Office/AP)

“All passenger and cargo aircraft travelling to and from Iran will be suspended for a period of one week, and could be up for extension,” the authority said. “The decision is a precautionary measure undertaken by the UAE to ensure strict monitoring and prevention of the spread of the new coronavirus.”

Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing around 2,700 deaths, mainly in China. The World Health Organisation has named the illness Covid-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

Iran’s government said Tuesday that 15 people had died nationwide from the new coronavirus, rejecting claims of a much higher death toll of 50 by a politician from the city of Qom which has been at the epicentre of the virus in the country.

The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government’s transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak.

The new death toll came from health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour during an interview with Iranian state television. He said there were 95 confirmed cases of the virus in Iran, with many linked to Qom, a major Shia religious centre where other cases have emerged.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani sought to reassure the nation in a speech on Tuesday, calling the new coronavirus an “uninvited and inauspicious passenger”.

But he declared: “We will get through corona. We will get through the virus.”