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Iran coronavirus deaths mount, including senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader

A man held a baby while walking by the entrance of Zekai Tahir Burak Hospital where 17 passengers of a Turkish Airlines flight from Tehran, suspected of having coronavirus, were to be quarantined, in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. All 132 passengers of Tehran-Istanbul flight and crew on board will be quarantined for 14 days at the same hospital where Turkish citizens returning from China had been quarantined. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iran’s Health Ministry reported 12 more deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the total to 66 deaths, while the number of cases in the country has reached 1,501.

A member of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader is among those who died, state television reported on March 2.

Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi died at a Tehran hospital of the virus, state radio said. He was 71. Mirmohammadi is the first top Iranian official to succumb to the COVID-19 disease that is affecting several members of Iran’s leadership.

The council advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It also acts as a mediator between the supreme leader and parliament.

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Mirmohammadi’s death comes as other top Iranian officials have contracted the virus. Iran has the highest death toll in the world after China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Infections Could Be Higher

Among those who are infected are Vice President Masumeh Ebtekar and Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.

Across the wider Middle East, there are over 1,150 cases of the new coronavirus, the majority of which are linked back to Iran.

Experts say Iran’s ratio of deaths to infections, around 5.5 percent, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than official figures show.

In a move to stem the outbreak, Iran on March 2 held an online-only briefing by its Foreign Ministry.

Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi opened the online news conference by dismissing an offer of help for Iran by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Meanwhile, a team from the World Health Organization (WHO) has arrived in Tehran to support Iran’s response to a coronavirus outbreak, the UN agency said.

The plane carrying the team also contained “medical supplies and protective equipment to support over 15,000 health care workers, as well as laboratory kits enough to test and diagnose nearly 100,000 people,” the WHO said in a statement.

The supplies worth more than $300,000 were loaded onto the United Arab Emirates military transport plane in Dubai.

Earlier, Britain, Germany, and France have offered Iran a “comprehensive package of both material and financial support” to combat the spread of coronavirus.

In a statement, the three European countries committed themselves to providing financial support “close to” 5 million euros ($5.6 million) through the World Health Organization or other UN agencies.

The group would send by plane medical material to Iran on March 2, including equipment for laboratory tests, protective body suits, and gloves, it said.

The British Embassy in Tehran announced that it has begun evacuations over the virus.

It said that essential staff were still in Iran, but if “the situation deteriorates further,” the embassy’s ability to help British nationals there “may be limited.”