Iran reported at least three more cases of the Wuhan coronavirus on Thursday, adding to the two cases confirmed on Wednesday. According to Iranian state media, two of the infected persons have died from the disease.
All but one of the Iranian coronavirus cases were reported from the city of Qom, a large city and provincial capital located about 80 miles south of Tehran. The fifth case was described as a doctor from Qom who became ill from the coronavirus while visiting the city of Arak, another provincial capital about 80 miles from Qom that is known internationally for the presence of a heavy-water nuclear reactor.
Iranian health officials urged the temporary suspension of religious gatherings in Qom, regarded as a holy city under Iran’s dominant religion of Shia Islam. Schools and universities in Qom have also been closed while the infections are investigated.
The two victims killed by the coronavirus were described in Iranian media reports as “elderly” people who have never traveled abroad, or even traveled outside of Qom province before they took ill. According to a health ministry spokesman, they died as a result of their “old age and deficient immune systems.”
All five of the patients are said to be Iranian nationals. Iranian officials claim there have been no reports of infection outside of Qom. Sources told the BBC at least 25 people are quarantined in the same hospital in Iran under suspicion they might have contracted the coronavirus.
The Wall Street Journal noted Iran has offered no explanation for how the coronavirus reached its soil, although one obvious vector would be China’s role as a trading partner.
“It wasn’t immediately clear how widespread the virus outbreak is in Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the establishment of a national coronavirus prevention committee, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Thursday. The committee will include ministers of health and roads in addition to a representative of the armed forces,” the Journal reported.
The Journal speculated that coronavirus anxiety could depress turnout in Iran’s parliamentary elections on Friday, and worried that Iran’s efforts to control the virus could be hindered by U.S. sanctions, which have hindered “imports of certain medicines and medical equipment.”