The head of a task force handling the coronavirus crisis in Iran has contracted the disease, amid signs the country’s outbreak is worsening, as authorities say the sickness is heading for global pandemic levels.
Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi’s announcement he had tested positive for the virus came a day after delivering a news conference in which he coughed occasionally and appeared to be sweating.
The death toll in Iran has risen to 16 by the early hours of Wednesday.
It comes as a further rise in infections across Europe fuelled concerns of a COVID-19 pandemic, with Italy the site of the most number of cases outside of Asia.
At least 12 towns have been placed under lockdown, some of the country’s most famous attractions have closed and a travel ban has been implemented as Italy tries to contain the virus’ spread.
“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation.
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing around 2700 deaths, mainly in China.
WHO assistant director-general Dr Bruce Aylward described the coronavirus as a “rapidly escalating epidemic” that needs to be tackled “super-fast to prevent a pandemic”.
The head of Iran’s anti-coronavirus task force, Mr Harirchi said he developed a fever before determining it was caused by the coronavirus.
“I’ve isolated myself in a place since … and now I am starting medication,” he said in a self-made home video posted on Wednesday (Australian time).
His admission comes after a member of parliament, Mahmoud Sadeghi, on Tuesday said he had also become infected.
“My corona test is positive … I don’t have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world,” Mr Sadeghi wrote on Twitter.
China helped save lives, doctor says
After he and a team of 25 people recently visited several areas in China, they unanimously concluded the mainland has “changed the course of this outbreak”, Dr Aylward said.
That’s because China has used basic public health tools on a scale never seen in history, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of civilians from contracting the disease, he said.
“What was a rapidly escalating outbreak has plateaued and then come down faster than one would have expected.”
The coronavirus could threaten to shut down the Tokyo Olympics (starting July 24) and Paralympics (starting August 25) which expect more than 15,000 people to attend.
Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee, estimates there’s a three-month window to decide its fate.
“You could certainly go to two months out if you had to”, of the July 24-August 9 Games.
Such a delay would mean putting off a decision until late May and hoping the virus is under control.
“A lot of things have to start happening,” Mr Pound said. “You’ve got to start ramping up your security, your food, the Olympic Village, the hotels; the media folks will be in there building their studios.”
If it got to the point of not going ahead, Mr Pound speculated “you’re probably looking at a cancellation”.
“This is the new war and you have to face it. In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?”‘