Tehran, Iran – Authorities in Iran have confirmed the death of two more people as a result of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths in Iran to four.
“The total number of deaths in Iran so far is four,” Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran’s health minister, told Al Jazeera on Friday as Iranians voted across the country in its 11th round of parliamentary elections.
The health official did not share further information about where the fatalities on Thursday took place.
Two elderly people who died in the holy city of Qom on Wednesday were the first deaths in the Middle East and the seventh and eighth deaths caused by the virus outside mainland China.
Vahabzadeh said there were 13 confirmed cases of the infection: Four in Tehran, seven in Qom, south of the capital, and two in Rasht, which lies in the northern part of the country.
The health official added there were several suspected cases in other cities but they were undergoing testing.
The coronavirus, 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 victims in China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
Measures in Qom
On Thursday, 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 told Al Jazeera that Iran’s health ministry recommended people limit their movement in and out of religious sites in Qom, 140km (87 miles) south of the capital.
Meanwhile, state media reported that authorities in Qom shut down schools and universities in the city on Thursday.
Ali Tabatabaei, a journalist in Qom, praised the government’s strong measures.
“Local authorities have been taking the infection seriously and up till now three hospitals have been allocated to take in patients affected by the virus. Leave for all physicians who work for the government has 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.
Ali Gholizadeh, an Iranian public health policy researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China, said on Wednesday that Iran’s health ministry was prepared to fight the virus, but added victims’ relatives should be quarantined “until we are sure they are not infected”.
“People in Iran should not panic,” he said, noting the mortality rate for the virus was low.