An Iranian health minister tested positive for coronavirus as the country struggles to contain the outbreak that has left more than a dozen people dead.
In a video posted online by the state-run Fars News Agency, Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister, confirmed he was infected.
“I wanted to tell you that I got corona,” said Harirchi, according to a translation from the Guardian. “I had a fever yesterday. The tests came back positive last night. I isolated myself. Just a few moments ago, I was told that the final test came. I’ll start taking medicine. Generally, I feel fine. I just felt a bit tired, I had a fever, and it will drop.”
According to the BBC, Harirchi was seen wiping his forehead during a press conference before he tested positive for the virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour confirmed to The Associated Press that Harirchi contracted the virus, while the news agency and other outlets noted that Harirchi was the head of Iran’s task force to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Harirchi’s case is sure to place even more pressure on Tehran as it struggles to contain the outbreak amid crippling sanctions. Several of Iran’s neighbors have also implemented more stringent travel restrictions, going so far as to close down the border to travelers coming from the country.
It comes as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) cut off flights to and from Iran. The UAE is home to international carriers Emirates and Ethiad, and reports noted that Iranians are heavily dependent on using its airports.
“All passenger and cargo aircraft traveling to and from Iran will be suspended for a period of one week, and could be up for extension,” the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement, reported Al Jazeera. “The decision is a precautionary measure undertaken by the UAE to ensure strict monitoring and prevention of the spread of the new coronavirus.”
As many as 95 cases have been confirmed so far in Iran, and 15 people have died from the virus, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. Most of the cases are centered in Qom, and other cases in the country were linked back to the city.
Neighboring countries including Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, and Afghanistan reported their first cases on Monday, saying the infected persons recently traveled from Iran. Other than the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait have also suspended flights with Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said he’s “deeply concerned” that Tehran may have covered up cases of COVID-19 and called on every nation to report accurate information. “All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations,” he said, Reuters reported.
Pompeo also criticized the Chinese Communist Party for what he described as an effort to censor media outlets and medical professionals who were reporting on the true scope of the outbreak. Tens of thousands of people are believed to have been sickened by the virus, although outside medical experts have questioned the number of cases that are being reported by Chinese health authorities.
“If China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge” of coronavirus, he added.