Iran has emerged as the most concerning hot-spot for the coronavirus outside of China within just two weeks as the country’s deputy health minister and a member of parliament have tested positive for the virus. 

Where Has the Coronavirus Hit in Iran?

Iran has reported 95 cases so far. Most of those have been at the northwestern province of Qom. Qom is Iran’s cultural capital and center of Islamic studies and hosts millions of pilgrims annually. The city has been flagged as the new epicenter of coronavirus in the country.

In an appeal to the Government, Qom’s head of medical sciences university Mohammedreza Ghadir said that “we are on the front lines. We need help. If I can say one thing, it is [to] help Qom.” 

The World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press briefing on Monday said “the sudden increases of cases in the Islamic Republic of Iran [is] deeply concerning.” He said that “outside China, there are now 2,074 cases in 28 countries, and 23 deaths.”

How Many Iranians Have Died So Far From Coronavirus?

Of the overall global death toll from coronavirus outside of China, around 15 of the deaths have occurred in Iran. In fact, the country has seen the highest number of deaths related to the virus outside of China. Iranian government officials have said that most of the cases have been reported among individuals who have traveled to and from Qom. The sudden and quick spread of coronavirus dented turnout for the 2020 parliamentary elections held last week.

Iran’s neighbors including Turkey, Armenia, Pakistan and Afghanistan have all closed their borders with the country. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan share a porous border with Iran as more than two million Afghan refugees reside along the border, where thousands cross from Pakistan’s Balochistan province into Iran for religious reasons. In addition, Iraq and Kuwait have banned travel to Iran. The United Arab Emirates, Tehran’s biggest trading partner in the Gulf, has also ended all cargo flights to and from Iran, further isolating them in their precarious economic situation.

But international observers are increasingly worried as government officials have released contradicting data on the number of virus cases and deaths. Others argue that given the sanctions by the United States and Europe, the country is facing challenges in containing the virus and treating the affected patients. 

Zarif: ‘Iran Calls for More Regional Cooperation’

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javed Zarif called upon regional neighbors for help. In a tweet, he said “Like other viruses – incl terrorism – #COVID19 knows no borders and doesn’t distinguish between ethnicity or faiths. To combat it, neither should we. In line with #HOPE, Iran calls for more regional cooperation including long overdue Joint Center for Disease Control & Prevention.” 

Following the spread of the virus, the Iranian Government shut down schools and other public places to contain the spread of the virus. The officials have also designated more than 200 hospitals throughout the country to treat the patients.

But despite high casualties, Iran has refused to quarantine Qom. “We still do not agree with quarantining cities since we believe the people are cultured enough to refrain from traveling from infected cities to other places,” said the country’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki, a response which has puzzled global health organizations and increased their concern.