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Iran’s coronavirus death toll up to 54 after sharp rise in confirmed cases

The virus, which originated in central China, has infected at least seven government officials in Iran.

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Medical staff wearing protective suits take samples from a driver with suspected symptoms of the coronavirus in South Korea (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Medical staff wearing protective suits take samples from a driver with suspected symptoms of the coronavirus in South Korea (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Medical staff wearing protective suits take samples from a driver with suspected symptoms of the coronavirus in South Korea (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

Iran’s Health Ministry has raised the death toll from the coronavirus to 54 as the number of people infected soared to 978.

Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said new cases were confirmed in a number of cities, including Mashhad, which is home to Iran’s most important Shiite shrine that attracts pilgrims from across the region.

Calls by Iran’s civilian government to clerics to close such shrines to the public have not been uniformly followed.

The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday and a whopping 385 new cases of Covid-19 infections.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The numbers, however, bring down the percentage of deaths to infections from 20% to around 5.5%.

Iran’s state broadcaster also said all flights to the city of Rasht, the capital of nothern Gilan province, had been suspended.

The area of Gilan has some of Iran’s highest number of infections after the capital, Tehran, and the holy city of Qom, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in the country.

The virus, which originated in central China, has infected at least seven government officials in Iran, including one of its vice presidents and a senior health ministry official.

The rise in cases in Iran came shortly after the United States recorded its first death, a man in his 50s in Washington state who had underlying health conditions but who had not travelled to any affected areas.

Trump Virus Outbreak
President Donald Trump said there were likely to be more cases in the US (Andrew Harnik/AP)

“Additional cases in the United States are likely, but healthy individuals should be able to fully recover,” President Donald Trump said at a briefing, where officials announced heightened warnings about travel to certain regions of Italy and South Korea as well as a ban on travel to Iran.

China on Sunday reported a slight rise in new cases over the past 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days that number has exceeded 500.

They remain almost entirely confined to the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital, the epicentre of Wuhan.

The list of countries hit by the virus climbed to nearly 60. More than 86,000 people worldwide have contracted the virus, with deaths topping 2,900.

Many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all.

That can allow for easier spread, and worries are mounting that prolonged quarantines, supply chain disruptions and a sharp reduction in tourism and business travel could weaken the global economy or even cause a recession.

Virus Outbreak South Korea
Army soldiers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in front of a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu (Lee Moo-ryul/Newsis via AP)

Around the world, the virus, and the fear that accompanies it, caused turmoil.

Islam’s holiest sites were closed to foreign pilgrims, while professional baseball teams played in deserted stadiums in Japan. Officials in France advised residents to forgo customary greeting kisses.

South Korea’s men’s professional basketball league said its regular session would be halted from Sunday, after an infection was reported at a hotel in southern South Korea where a team had stayed.

Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close, and big events were cancelled, including a concert series by the K-pop supergroup BTS.

In France, the archbishop of Paris advised parish priests not to administer communion by placing the sacramental bread in worshippers’ mouths. Instead, priests were told to place the bread in their hands.

France Virus Outbreak
Faithful receive the holy communion into their hands during a Mass in Paris (Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recommended that a meeting on March 9 where about 10,000 people were to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a UN conference on women’s rights be drastically scaled back because of the spread of Covid-19.

The president of South Korea, the second hardest hit country after China, used a speech marking the 101st anniversary of an anti-Japanese independence uprising to call for national unity to overcome the soaring virus outbreak.

President Moon Jae-in spoke soon after health authorities reported 376 additional cases of coronavirus, raising the total in the country to 3,526.

The Japanese northern island of Hokkaido said on Sunday that a man in his 70s died from the virus, becoming the 12th victim in Japan. It was the third fatality in Hokkaido, where 70 people have been infected and a state of emergency was declared on Friday after clusters of unknown transmission emerged.

Thailand also reported its first death on Sunday, a 35-year old Thai man who worked as a salesman and had contact with foreign tourists.

Italian authorities say the country now has more than 1,100 coronavirus cases, with 29 deaths so far.

PA