Iranian Official Who Played Down Virus Fears is Infected

THE head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who had urged the public not to overreact about its spread has tested positive for the illness himself, authorities said Tuesday.

The report comes as new cases emanating from the country rapidly emerged across the Middle East.

Only a day earlier, a coughing and heavily sweating Iraj Harirchi said at a televised news conference in Tehran, that “the situation is almost stable in the country.”

Iran on Tuesday also saw a crucial air link cut to the United Arab Emirates, home to the world’s busiest airport for international travel in Dubai, as Bahrain announced more confirmed cases of the virus from passengers who transited through the UAE. The number of cases also increased sharply elsewhere in the region.

Qatar Airways, one of the Mideast’s biggest carriers, also said it was essentially halting operations to Iran and South Korea until further notice.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour confirmed Harirchi had the virus. Harirchi himself posted an online video saying he had it and that he had quarantined himself at home. He promised that authorities would bring the virus under control.

On Monday, however, he had offered a far different assessment while repeatedly wiping his brow while standing beside government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

The coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing about 2,700 deaths, mainly in China. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19.

Jahanpour on Tuesday said 15 people had died in Iran so far amid 95 confirmed cases. However, experts remain concerned Iran may be underreporting cases and deaths, given the rapid spread from Iran across the Persian Gulf.

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