Iranian vice president Masoumeh Ebtekar infected with coronavirus

Bronwen Weatherby
Getty Images

An Iranian vice president has been infected with coronavirus, the country's state-owned newspaper has reported.

Mosoumeh Ebtekar is the Vice President for Women and Family Affairs.

Ms Ebtekar was the first female member of the cabinet in Iran when she was nominated to head the Department for Environment in 1997.

She is better known as the English-language spokeswoman for the 1979 hostage-takers who seized the US Embassy in Tehran and sparked the 444-day diplomatic crisis.

The minister is reported to have attended a cabinet meeting yesterday during which she sat close to President of Iran Hassan Rouhani, according to reports by the BBC's Persian correspondent.

A total of 26 people have died so far in Iran, the world's highest death toll outside of China, where the outbreak began.

Saudi Arabia on Thursday banned foreign pilgrims from entering Mecca, the kingdom to visit Islam's holiest sites, over the new coronavirus, potentially disrupting the plans of millions of faithful ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and as the annual hajj pilgrimage looms.

The decision showed the growing worry across the Middle East about the virus as Iran confirmed that infected cases in the country spiked by over 100, to 254 now.

Authorities also suspended entry to travellers from nations affected by the new virus who hold tourist visas for the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has closed its doors to pilgrims amid coronavirus fears (AFP/Getty Images)

It appeared Saudi officials worried about the risk of pilgrims spreading the virus as they had in Iran. The virus' epicentre in the Islamic Republic is the holy Shiite city of Qom, where the faithful in reverence reach out to kiss and touch a famous shrine. That shrine and others have remained open, despite Iran's civilian government calling for them to be closed.

There have been no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Saudi Arabia amid the outbreak.

"Saudi Arabia renews its support for all international measures to limit the spread of this virus, and urges its citizens to exercise caution before travelling to countries experiencing coronavirus outbreaks," the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement announcing the decision. "We ask God Almighty to spare all humanity from all harm."