Coronavirus: Iran council member close to supreme leader Khamenei dies of Covid-19
- Death comes as other top officials in Iran fall ill with the virus
- Islamic republic has the highest death toll in the world after China
The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi came as Iran announced the virus had killed 66 people among 1,501 confirmed cases in the country.
Iran has the highest death toll in the world after China, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Mirmohammadi died at a north Tehran hospital of the virus, state radio said. He was 71.
The council advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as settles disputes between the top cleric and parliament.
His death comes as other top officials have contracted the virus in Iran.
Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.
Iran has reported 978 confirmed cases of the new virus with 54 deaths from the illness it causes, called Covid-19. Across the wider Mideast, there are over 1,150 cases of the new coronavirus, most which are linked back to Iran.
Meanwhile, Iraq detected two new coronavirus patients, both of whom had recently visited Iran, the Health Ministry said on Monday, bringing the total cases recorded so far to 21.
Experts worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, around 5.5 per cent, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than current figures show.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi opened the online news conference addressing the outbreak, dismissing an offer of help for Iran by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Iran and the US have seen some of the worst tensions since its 1979 Islamic Revolution in recent months, culminating in the American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad and a subsequent Iranian ballistic missile counter-attack against US forces.
“We neither count on such help nor are we ready to accept verbal help,” Mousavi said. He added Iran has always been “suspicious” about America’s intentions and accused the US government of trying to weaken Iranians’ spirits over the outbreak.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday sent its first planeload of assistance to Iran to help fight coronavirus, dispatching six medics with tonnes of medical equipment and test kits aboard a UAE military aircraft.
“Today’s flight will carry 7.5 tonnes of medical equipment and supplies, primarily the critical items needed for infection prevention and control to support health care workers in Iran,” said Robert Blanchard from the WHO in Dubai.
The six-member medical team is made up of doctors, epidemiologists and laboratory specialists who will help the Islamic republic detect and control the virus, Blanchard said, adding it was the first WHO team to be sent to Iran since the crisis began.
Britain, Germany and France have offered a US$5.6 million package to Iran to help fight coronavirus in the country, Britain’s Foreign Office said on Monday.
The so-called E3 group would provide the support through the WHO or other UN agencies, it said in a statement.
“Essential staff needed to continue critical work will remain,” the British Foreign Office said. “In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy to provide assistance to British nationals from within Iran may be limited.”
While Iran has closed schools and universities to stop the spread of the virus, major Shiite shrines have remained open despite civilian authorities calling for them to be closed. The holy cities of Mashhad and Qom in particular, both home to shrines, have been hard-hit by the virus. Shiites often touch and kiss shrines as a sign of their faith. Authorities have been cleaning the shrines with disinfectants.
Police have arrested one man who posted a video showing himself licking the metal enclosing the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, the most-important Shiite saint buried in the country, according to reports by semi-official news agencies. In the video, the man said he licked the metal to “allow others to visit the shrine with peace of mind.”
Meanwhile on Monday, the virus outbreak saw itself dragged into the years-long boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations over a political dispute.
A prominent columnist at Dubai’s government-owned Al-Bayan newspaper on Twitter falsely described the virus as being a plot by Qatar to hurt the upcoming Expo 2020 world’s fair in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Noura al-Moteari later described the tweet as “satire” after it gained widespread attention.
The Dubai Media Office similarly described the tweet as being written in a “cynical style” while distancing the Arabic-language daily from al-Moteari.
“Noura is a freelance writer and is not an employee of Al-Bayan nor does she represent the publication’s views,” it said. “That being said, this has no relevance to any social media policy being practised by the publication nor the state.”
The tweet comes after Qatar expressed disappointment on Sunday that nearly all of its Gulf neighbours snubbed invitations to attend the weekend peace signing ceremony between the US and the Taliban.