Coronavirus has killed around 50 people in Qom, the Iranian city's representative in parliament said, according to the semi-official ILNA news agency.
The comments by MP Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani suggest that coronavirus is far more widepsread in Iran than previously thought. The Iranian government announced on Monday morning that the total stood at 12 in the entire country, raising questions over its reporting of the crisis. Iran's Health Ministry rejected the number on Monday afternoon.
“Up until last night, around 50 people died from coronavirus. The health minister is to blame,” Amirabadi Farhani said on Monday.
Ten people die in Qom daily due to the coronavirus outbreak in the city, he added.
In response, Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi denied the figures and said he would resign if Amirabadi Farhani's numbers were correct. “If the number of coronavirus victims in Qom is a quarter of what media outlets are reporting, I will resign. The figure is incorrect, and we are sure of our statistics,” he said.
However, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianush Jahanpour rapidly revised the total up on Monday, saying there are now 61 confirmed cases in the country.
Amirabadi Farhani also criticized the government's efforts to control the virus. “Qom is in a poor state and the government has been unsuccessful in controlling the coronavirus outbreak,” he said.
The government is not “worried enough” about the outbreak, he added, stating: “It is true that we should keep calm, but we must not act like nothing has happened.”
He added that coronavirus has been in Qom for three weeks already, but nurses were still unprepared.
The MP himself was forced to leave the parliament due to feeling unwell, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, citing another MP.
The Iranian parliament held a session behind closed doors today which was also attended by health minister Saeed Namaki.
Prior to the start of the session, the body temperature of MPs was checked as a precaution, and three MPs – including Amirabadi Farhani – were advised not to attend the session, ISNA quoted an unnamed MP as saying.
Despite that, all three MPs attended the session, the unnamed MP told ISNA.
Amirabadi Farhani was told that he needs to be quarantined, but he declined and went home, the MP added. A member of the parliament staff then disinfected his seat, according to ISNA.
Amirabadi Farhani spoke with journalists today and gave exclusive interviews to several TV channels, ISNA said, adding that the MP was wearing a mask and a pair of gloves.
Iran late to announce, unprepared for coronavirus
Amirabadi Farhani's announcement takes the number of cases in Iran up rapidly, from eight on Sunday night to at least 50 on Monday.
“Coronavirus has been in Qom since three weeks ago and the outbreak was announced late,” Amirabadi Farhani said.
The Iranian government only announced the presence of coronavirus in Qom on Wednesday, when officials said it killed two elderly people - the first confirmed deaths from the disease in the Middle East.
Speaking on Wednesday, the health ministry spokesman had said that Iran carried out tests on 785 suspected cases.
Iran also announced the closure of schools in the Shia city of Qom.
But already on Friday, Iranians voiced their discontent at the level of preparation, with protests breaking out in the northern city of Talash reportedly aimed at the government's response to the outbreak.
Amirabadi Farhani also criticized the government's response and said they did not have the sufficient supplies.
“Nurses currently do not have proper quarantine clothing and are treating patients with fear and anxiety,” he said.
Coronavirus hits the Middle East
If Amirabadi Farhani is correct, the numbers from the outbreak mark a major increase in the number of deaths from coronavirus anywhere outside China - let alone just Iran.
On Monday, Bahrain and Kuwait also reported coronavirus cases.
Bahrain said a man who traveled to the country from Iran had been infected, while Kuwait said that three people including a Saudi citizen had been infected. Saudi Arabia announced it is cooperating with Kuwait to treat the patient.
Earlier in the month, the UAE reported that an Iranian couple had tested positive for the virus while in the country.
Many regional countries reacted to the much bigger outbreak in Iran by closing borders and putting restrictions on travel.
Latest updates on coronavirus across the Middle East: