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Iran announces 77 deaths amid coronavirus outbreak

The Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced plans to mobilise the armed forces in an effort to tackle the spread of the virus.


A medic treats a patient infected with coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran (AP)

A medic treats a patient infected with coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran (AP)

A medic treats a patient infected with coronavirus, at a hospital in Tehran (AP)

Iranian authorities said 77 people have died amid 2,336 cases of the new coronavirus in the Islamic Republic.

Earlier, Iran’s supreme leader ordered the country’s armed forces to assist its health ministry in combating the spread of the virus.

The decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came as Iran reported the highest death toll from the new virus and the Covid-19 illness it causes outside of China, the epicentre of the virus.

Coronavirus in Iran
A key adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader died of the illness, according to reports (AP)

Khamenei’s decision was announced after state media broadcast images of him planting a tree wearing disposable gloves ahead of Iran’s upcoming arbor day.

He said: “Whatever helps public health and prevents the spread of the disease is good and what helps to spread it is sin.”

After downplaying the coronavirus as recently as last week, Iranian authorities now say they have plans to potentially mobilise 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus.

Concern over the outbreak now stretches to Iran’s top leadership – some of whom have fallen ill from the virus.

Semiofficial news agencies in Iran have reported that the head of the country’s emergency medical services is now ill with the virus.

Tasnim and ILNA news agencies, as well as other Iranian media outlets, reported that Pirhossein Koulivand had come down with the new illness.

An activist group said Wikipedia’s Farsi-language website appears to have been disrupted after a close confidant to Khamenei died of the illness.

Virus outbreak in Iran
A aramedic works with a centrifuge to test blood samples taken from patients suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus in Tehran (Mizan News Agency/AP)

Advocacy group NetBlocks has linked the death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi to the disruption, though Iranian officials and its state media did not immediately acknowledge the death.

NetBlocks described the disruption to accessing Farsi Wikipedia as being nationwide, saying its technical testing suggests the online encyclopedia is being blocked by the same mechanism used to block Twitter and Facebook.

Those social media websites have been banned since Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election and Green Movement protests.

Iran says the virus has killed at least 66 people in the country
Many people fear the virus has affected more people than the government acknowledges (Ali Shirband/AP)

Some Iranians said they have not been able to access Wikipedia’s Farsi website since Monday night. Others said they could, including through the site’s mobile-friendly pages.

“The new restrictions come as Iran faces a growing crisis following the loss of senior state figures to coronavirus and a spate of criticism and misinformation have spread through social media,” NetBlocks said in its analysis.

The disruption raises fears of Iran potentially shutting off the internet entirely again, as it did for a week during economic protests in November. Iran has separately created its own so-called “halal” net of government-approved websites.