A handout picture obtained from the Iranian presidency shows Iran's deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi (L) standing next to the Islamic republic's government spokesman Ali Rabiei during a press conference in Tehran on February 24, 2020.
A handout picture obtained from the Iranian presidency shows Iran's deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi (L) standing next to the Islamic republic's government spokesman Ali Rabiei during a press conference in Tehran on February 24, 2020.
Photo: AFP/ Iranian Presidency

The coronavirus has rapidly spread across the globe, with China having clocked a death toll of over 2,700 as of Wednesday. The confirmed cases rose to 78,064, amidst strong signs of COVID-19 slowing down even at its epicentre Hubei province.

However, while the virus seems to be slowing down, it has now spread to many other countries. The US for example had 57 cases as of Tuesday. India has so far recorded three cases. However several Indian who had been on board the quarantined ship, Diamond Princess have also tested positive.

In Iran, the virus has so far killed 15 people, thus making it one of the worst hit areas outside of China.

On Monday, government spokesman Ali Rabiei held a press conference denying claims that a greater number of people than mentioned officially had died due to the virus. He was accompanied by the country's deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi.

Videos of the briefing however showed Harirchi wiping sweat from his brow and demonstrating some of the symptoms associated with the disease, even as the spokesperson asserts that the country is not facing major problems in containing the issue.

Economist and policy analyst Karim Sadjadpour wrote on Twitter that the spokesperson "confidently asserts they have no problem containing coronavirus," even as the deputy health Minister alongside him "appears symptomatic, but takes no precautions to cover/isolate himself".

In a follow-up post he added that the Minister in question had tested positive.

"Today the deputy health minister--who'd "been briefing briefing officials & journalists", presumably without a mask--casually announces he's tested positive," he wrote.

In a video Harirchi can be seen announcing the same.

"I've had a fever since Monday. The first test I took late last night came back positive and I have been in isolation since then. Just now they told me the final test was also positive," he said.

Harirchi said he was receiving treatment and that he was waiting for his fever to drop.

"I want to assure you that with the help of the Ministry of Help, and the support from you, the government and the pillars of the system, we will successfully fight this virus in the coming weeks."

Many on the internet expressed outrage and surprise over the video of Harirchi's press briefing.

"Deputy Health Minister of Iran in a fever sweat at a press conference to reassure people that the government has corona virus under control only to later tell everyone he has tested positive for corona virus is like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie just as things go to hell," read one tweet.

"Amazing," said another Twitter user.

Many also expressed sympathy for the reporters who were at the press conference in question.

Another MP, Mahmoud Sadeghi, also took to Twitter to say that he had contracted the disease.

The World Health Organization is sending a team of experts to help Iranian authorities address the COVID-19 outbreak. Iran's health spokesperson Kianush Jahanpur said the total number of active cases in Iran stood at 95, with 35 new cases being detected on the previous day.

Several neighbouring countries also reported their first cases on Monday. Many of these people had recently travelled home from Iran. Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Armenia have all closed their borders to Iran, while Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have halted flights to the country. Most flights into Tehran have also been cancelled.

(With inputs from agencies)

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