The Iranian health ministry confirmed on Monday that 12 people from the city of Qom have died from the novel coronavirus — the highest number outside of China.
According to the health ministry, total infections have risen to 61 while death toll rose to 12. Meanwhile a lawmaker, Qom representative Ahmad Amirabad Farahani, has refuted the numbers, claiming that at least 50 people have died so far.
Still, questions of transparency were being raised as the number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.
There are concerns that clusters of the new coronavirus in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.
Health Ministry Spokesman Iraj Harirchi insisted on Monday the death toll from the virus remains at 12. He did, however, raise the number of confirmed cases of infections to 61, and added that some 900 other suspected cases are being tested.
“No one is qualified to discuss this sort of news at all,” Harirchi said, adding that lawmakers have no access to coronavirus statistics and could be mixing figures on deaths related to other diseases like the flu with the new virus.
The outbreak of the virus in Iran comes as its economy buckles under pressure from US economic sanctions. The virus threatens to isolate Iran even further as neighboring countries closed their borders with the Islamic Republic.
Pakistan monitoring situation in Tehran
In a press release issued on Monday, the Pakistani embassy in Tehran stated that it is actively monitoring the situation in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the statement, the Pakistani and Iranian governments are working in close coordination to curb the spread of the disease.
"While the embassy and its sub-missions in Mashhad and Zahedan will continue its outreach with our community members [...] all Pakistani nationals living, travelling and studying in Iran, especially those who are residing in Qom, are advised to take utmost precaution and adopt safety measures as prescribed by the World Health Organisation and the Iranian authorities," the statement read.
It explained that authorities have designated hospitals for treating coronavirus in every major city. "In case of any suspicions [regarding having contracted the virus] it is advised to visit the hospitals designated, cooperate with local health authorities, and share complete information with the embassy."
The statement also urged citizens to avoid creating furor on social media and to ignore news that has not been confirmed by officials, urging people to "stay calm and vigilant while adopting preventive measures".