A few days ago, Iranian deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi held a press conference about the new coronavirus infection, COVID-19.
Mr Harirchi, who leads Iran's anti-coronavirus taskforce, and Ali Rabiei, the minister for social welfare, reassured the public that they weren't covering up the scale of the outbreak, following accusations that Iran has had more cases than the official number of cases reported. As well as trying to squash the idea that the Iranian government is hiding the true scale of the outbreak, the press conference was supposed to reassure the public about the dangers they face from the virus. Iran currently has the highest COVID-19-related deaths outside China, at 19.
During the conference, however, Harirchi started showing visible signs of discomfort and reached out to get himself a tissue to wipe sweat off his brow, while Rabiei continued with the message that the country has the outbreak under control.
Harirchi then made his own part of the statement, continuing to mop up a significant amount of sweat.
Now, the minister has confirmed that he has been infected with COVID-19, and has self-isolated to stop it from spreading to others. From isolation, he recorded a video promising his colleagues will end the spread of the disease, and he will rejoin the fight once he has recovered.
Iran currently has 139 reported cases of the virus and 19 deaths, the most deaths outside of China, where 2,715 people have died so far. With holy sites that attract millions to the country, there are fears that if the outbreak is not controlled it could potentially cause an outbreak in the Middle East, BBC reports.
The number of deaths has caused concern amongst experts that we may not be getting an accurate picture of the true scale of the outbreak. The majority of reported cases from the country have been the elderly and those who are dying ie. those with a weakened immune system.
"It seems like we're hearing about the tip of the iceberg and missing that chunk underneath who may be younger and may not be particularly unwell," Dr Nathalie MacDermott, an expert in infectious diseases at King's College London told the BBC.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the US had concerns that the number of cases in Iran may be much higher than reported.
“As of yesterday afternoon, Iran was second only to China in coronavirus deaths,” CNS reports Pompeo said. “All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations.”
With the current 139 confirmed cases and 19 deaths, that would put the fatality rate at around 12 percent, far higher than anywhere else, where the rate has been between 1 and 2 percent. Either the strain is much deadlier there, or the number of infected is indeed higher than has been reported.