A member of a council that advises Iran’s supreme leader has died after falling sick from the new coronavirus, becoming the first top official to succumb to the illness that is affecting members of the Islamic Republic’s leadership.
The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi came as Iran announced the virus had killed 66 people among 1501 confirmed cases in the country.
Iran has the highest death toll in the world after China, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Mr Mirmohammadi died at a Tehran hospital of the virus, state radio said. He was 71.
The council advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as settles disputes between the supreme leader and parliament.
His death comes as other top officials have contracted the virus in Iran, which has the highest death toll in the world after China, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Those sick include Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, state media reported.
Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.
Iran has reported 978 confirmed cases of the new virus with 54 deaths from the illness it causes, called COVID-19.
Across the wider Mideast, there are more than 1150 cases of the new coronavirus, the majority of which are linked back to Iran.
Experts worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, around 5.5 per cent, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than current figures show.
Trying to stem the outbreak of the new coronavirus, Iran on Monday held an online-only briefing by its Foreign Ministry.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi opened the online news conference addressing the outbreak, dismissing an offer of help for Iran by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“We neither count on such help, nor are we ready to accept verbal help,” Mr Mousavi said.
He added Iran has always been “suspicious” about America’s intentions and accused the US government of trying to weaken Iranians’ spirits over the outbreak.
The British Embassy, meanwhile, has begun evacuations over the virus.
“Essential staff needed to continue critical work will remain,” the British Foreign Office said.
“In the event that the situation deteriorates further, the ability of the British Embassy to provide assistance to British nationals from within Iran may be limited.”
Iran has closed schools and universities to stop the spread of the virus, but major Shiite shrines have remained open despite civilian authorities calling for them to be closed.
The holy cities of Mashhad and Qom in particular, both home to shrines, have been hard hit by the virus.
Shiites often touch and kiss shrines as a sign of their faith.
Authorities have been cleaning the shrines with disinfectants.