Iraj Harirchi, the Iranian deputy health minister, has announced that he has been infected with coronavirus (COVID-19), just a day after he held a news conference alongside a government spokesperson about the outbreak of illness.
Harirchi posted a video of himself saying he had come down with a "fever" on Monday, February 24, and so had been tested for the virus. The results, which he received on Tuesday, February 25, came back positive.
He said his general condition is "good" and he has begun receiving treatment. "Be sure we will defeat the coronavirus," he said in an address to the Iranian public.
Harirchi was said to have been sneezing and coughing during the news conference with President Hassan Rouhani's government spokesperson, Ali Rabiei, which was broadcast live on Iranian television.
During the press briefing, Harirchi had spoken about precautions the city of Qom had taken to deal with the virus, and its decision to quarantine parts of the city. ”We disagree with the quarantine; it is a pre-World War I measure. We will test, analyze and predict the impact of any decision regarding the spread of coronavirus," he said. "This [quarantine] has many impacts; we don't agree at all."
Harirchi was responding to sharp words from a Qom member of parliament (MP) who had criticized the government’s feeble response to the outbreak and announced that 50 people had died of the coronavirus in Qom. Harirchi promised to resign if only half of this number had been confirmed dead. Hours later, the Qom MP announced that he had handed over the names of those who died to the deputy minister and was awaiting his resignation.
Also during the news conference, Harirchi described the method and directives being followed when burying those who had died: "There is a predetermined and well-established way for burying the deceased in terms of the material of the casket, methods for washing the body, and so on. This is in accordance with the WHO protocol and we totally comply with that." Ali Rabiei, the spokesperson for the government added: "A religious authorization was also given to bury the bodies, and not to violate sharia. There is zero possibility for the virus to spread [during burials],” he said.
In addition to news of the deputy health minister contracting the virus, the Iranian news website Emtedad reported that a member of the office of Ayatollah Musa Shobeiri Zanjani had also died due to the coronavirus. Members of the ayatollah's office and the ayatollah have all been placed in quarantine.
Iranian government officials have said that as of February 25, 95 people had been infected with the coronavirus in Iran, and 15 have died.
The coronavirus has spread to several Iranian cities, with Qom being the epicenter for the virus. People traveling from Iran to neighboring countries have also spread the virus outside the country.