DUBAI: Iran on Wednesday (Feb 26) reported four more COVID-19 deaths among 44 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of fatalities to 19 and infections to 139.
Iran health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour called on Iranians to refrain from travel as he announced the new tallies on state television.
Fifteen new COVID-19 cases surfaced in the city of Qom, nine in Gilan, four in Tehran, three in Khuzestan, two each in Sistan and Baluchistan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad, and Fars, and one in Markazi, Kermanshah, Ardebil, Mazandaran, Lorestan, Semnan and Hormozgan, he said.
The latest health ministry figures show the virus has spread to all four corners of the country.
Newly-hit regions include southwestern Khuzestan, Lorestan in the west, Semnan in central Iran, the southern province of Hormozgan, and Sistan and Baluchistan as well as Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad in the southeast.
But despite the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the authorities have so far dismissed quarantine as an option to control the outbreak.
According to Jahanpour, the situation in Qom was "improving".
"Every 24 hours at least 10 per cent of those hospitalised or suspect cases are discharged with good general health," he said.
But in Gilan "things are slightly concerning", he added, as it has the second-highest number of new cases, some of which were people who had made trips to other provinces.
Iran's deputy health minister on Tuesday confirmed he has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
In a video broadcast on state television, the deputy minister put on a brave face as he admitted he was infected. "I too have been infected with coronavirus," Harirchi said in the video apparently shot by himself.
"I had a fever as of last night and my preliminary test was positive around midnight."
KUWAIT, BAHRAIN ANNOUNCE NEW CASES
Kuwait and Bahrain on Wednesday also announced more cases of the coronavirus.
Kuwait's health ministry said on Wednesday that the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus in the country rose to 25 after 13 more cases were confirmed.
The cases were all related to people travelling to Iran, it said.
Meanwhile, Bahrain said the number of coronavirus infections in its country has risen to 26 after three new cases were confirmed, according to the state news agency (BNA).
The three were identified as Bahraini women who arrived at Bahrain international airport on indirect flights from Iran.
US TRYING TO SPREAD "FEAR": IRAN PRESIDENT
President Hassan Rouhani accused the United States on Wednesday of trying to spread "fear" over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
"We shouldn't let America mount a new virus on top of coronavirus that is called ... extreme fear," Rouhani told a weekly cabinet meeting, a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of suppressing information about the outbreak.
The Americans "themselves are struggling with coronavirus. Sixteen thousand people have died of influenza there but they don't talk about their own (dead)", Rouhani said.
Iran has been scrambling to contain COVID-19 since Wednesday last week when it announced the first two deaths in Qom, a centre for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.
Its authorities have closed schools, universities, cultural centres, sporting events and deployed teams of sanitary workers to disinfect buses, trains and public spaces.
On Tuesday, Pompeo accused the Islamic republic of concealing the true extent of the outbreak.
"The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak," he told reporters in Washington.
Rouhani said Iran had been making progress in the fight against the virus as "we witness fewer (hospital) visits and progress in treatment".
"If 100 people were hospitalised in the early days, seven to eight could have died, but this number has dropped very much today," he said.
The Iranian president also vowed to be transparent about the number of deaths and infections caused by the virus.