Tehran, Iran – Authorities in Iran have confirmed three new cases of the coronavirus, a day after two people died from the infection in the city of Qom.
Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran’s health minister, said on Wednesday a total of five cases have been confirmed in Iran so far.
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“The three new cases from today include two in Qom and one in Araq in central Iran. The case in Araq is a doctor,” he told Al Jazeera. “It remains unclear where the virus in Iran has come.”
The virus, known as COVID-19, was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December. Since then, it has infected more than 75,000 people and killed more than 2,000 – the vast majority of them in China.
It has since reached 27 countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global health emergency, mainly over concerns it could spread to countries with weaker health systems.
The deaths in Iran on Tuesday were the first fatalities in the Middle East region and only the seventh and eighth death caused by the virus outside mainland China. A health official cited by the semi-official IRNA news agency said the victims had not had any contact with foreigners or with Chinese nationals.
Vahabzadeh said Iran’s health ministry has recommended that people limit their movement into and out of religious sites in Qom, a city located 140 kilometres (87 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. Meanwhile, state media reported that authorities in Qom have shut down schools and universities in the city on Thursday.
Ali Tabatabaei, a journalist in Qom, praised the government’s strong measures and said people in the city remain calm.
“People in Qom are not panicking, we can see them sitting in cafes without masks,” said the editor-in-chief of the online website Qom News.
“Local authorities have been taking the infection seriously and up till now three hospital have been allocated to take in patients affected by the virus. Leave for all physicians who work for the government have been cancelled and all hospitals are on red alert,” he said.
Emergency teams had arrived from Tehran, he said, adding that Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Qasem Jan-Babaei was also in the city. Local media reported on Wednesday that Jan-Babaei travelled to the city to assess the situation and that authorities were setting up emergency units for the treatment of contagious diseases there.
Meanwhile, Vahabzadeh said tests were being carried out to confirm suspected cases in several other cities. He did not specify the locations.
“Until now we have no further confirmations on any more cases,” he said.
The official IRNA news agency said two people suspected of having the virus had been quarantined in the northern city of Babol.
Ali Larijani, speaker of Parliament, has called for immediate measures to counter the outbreak.
On Wednesday, Ali Gholizadeh, an Iranian public health policy researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China, said Iran’s health ministry was prepared to fight the virus, but added that the victims’ relatives should be quarantined “until we are sure they are not infected”.
“People in Iran should not panic,” he stressed, noting the mortality rate for the virus was low.
Earlier this week, the WHO said the coronavirus caused mild disease in four out of five people infected, and only posed a threat to older patients or people with underlying conditions. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO chief, said some 14 percent of infected people suffer from severe complication, while 2 percent die from the disease.