Iran accused of hiding true scale of coronavirus deaths

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - At least 210 people have died in Iran from the new coronavirus, BBC Persian reported Friday citing unnamed sources in the Islamic republic's health system, promoting an angry denial from a health ministry spokesman.

Most of the people died in the capital Tehran and the holy city of Qom in central Iran, where the country's first case was reported, the London-based global news network's Persian service said.

Iran's official death toll stood at 34 on Friday afternoon, with eight new deaths reported over the previous 24 hours.

Health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur accused BBC Persian of joining the Islamic republic's regional enemies in a "race to spread lies" about Iran.

Muslims wear protective face masks following the coronavirus outbreak, as they pray on a street during Friday prayers in local souq, in Manama, Bahrain. Reuters

A vendor wears a protective face mask following the coronavirus outbreak, as he looks on at his shop in local souq, in Manama, Bahrain. Reuters

Dr Manaf Al Qahtani, Infectious Diseases Consultant and Microbiologist at the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital and Member of the National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19) (centre) speaks during a press conference held by National Taskforce for Combating Coronavirus (COVID), as Lt Col Mohammed Al Bin Qadeer (right) and Dr Jameela Al Salman (left), both members of National Taskforce, look on at Sheikh Salman Hall in Manama, Bahrain. Reuters

A travel agency officer tidies up suitcases owned by Umrah pilgrims, after the cancellation of the departure to Mecca following the Saudi government's temporary ban to keep the country safe because of coronavirus outbreak, in Makassar, Sulawesi Selatan, Indonesia. Reuters

A vendor wears a protective face mask following the coronavirus outbreak, at a local vegetables and fruits market in Sanabis west of Manama, Bahrain. Reuters

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland. Reuters

A map showing the distribution of coronavirus (COVID-2019) cases all around the world is displayed on a TV during a World Health Organization (WHO) news conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Reuters

A man wearing a protective mask is seen inside the Shanghai Stock Exchange building, as the country is hit by a new coronavirus outbreak, at the Pudong financial district in Shanghai, China. Reuters

A woman in protective gear rides a shared bicycle past a mural in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Hubei province, China. Reuters

Life inside a red zone: A group of men wearing protective masks play a game of cards out on a street in San Fiorano, one of the towns on lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak, in this picture taken by schoolteacher Marzio Toniolo in San Fiorano, Italy. Reuters

People wearing protective suits are seen at the windows of a sports centre where Colombian citizens have been isolated after being repatriated by the Colombian government from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Bogota, Colombia. Reuters

Kristen Curley (right), owner of Nitro-Pak, and an employee, put items into a backpack as part of personal protection and survival equipment kits ordered by customers preparing against novel coronavirus, at Nitro-Pak in Midway, Utah, US. Reuters

A protective mask has been put on the face of a statue of Italy's patron saint, St. Francis, in San Fiorano, one of the towns on lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak, in this picture taken by schoolteacher Marzio Toniolo in San Fiorano, Italy. Reuters

Tourists pass through a police checkpoint as they leave by foot the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel, which was placed on lockdown after four cases of the coronavirus were detected there, but others showed no symptom of illness, in Adeje, on the Spanish island of Tenerife, Spain. Reuters

"Iran's exemplary transparency in publishing information on the coronavirus has stunned many people," Mr Jahanpur tweeted.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had offered to help with the coronavirus response in Iran, raising doubts about Tehran's willingness to share information.

Iran said the offer was ridiculous.

US President Donald pulled out from a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions which have battered the Islamic Republic's economy.

"The claim to help Iran in dealing with coronavirus, from a country which with its economic terrorism has created widespread pressure for the people of Iran and even closed the paths for buying medicine and medical equipment, is a ridiculous claim and a political-psychological game," Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said, according to the Mehr news agency.

Elsewhere, Lebanon announced on Friday it would bar entry to non-resident foreigners from the four countries most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, a day after announcing its third case.

The Middle Eastern country will deny entry to people arriving from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, the state news agency reported, without saying when the measure would come into effect.

All airlines operating flights to Beirut have been notified of the ban, which does not affect Lebanese citizens or foreigners holding a residency permit, the agency added.

Education Minister Tarek Majzoub on Friday ordered the closure of all schools, universities and other educational institutions in the country until March 8.

Lebanon's health ministry on Thursday confirmed another coronavirus case. All three individuals infected - two Lebanese and an Iranian - arrived recently from Iran, the worst-hit country in the region.

Despite government efforts to reassure the Lebanese, videos have circulated on social media denouncing what users say are insufficient screenings for the virus at Beirut's international airport.

Updated: February 29, 2020 10:17 AM

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