At least five deaths from the novel coronavirus in Iran and 18 new confirmed cases have triggered alarm and anxiety in the country.
On Friday, Kianush Jahanpour, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health, confirmed deaths of four people from coronavirus in the country’s northern city of Qom, 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
Jahanpour, also confirmed 18 new cases, including seven in the city of Qom, four in the capital Tehran and two in Gilan province.
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry confirmed first two deaths from the coronavirus in Qom, the epicenter of virus in Iran.
In China, the epicenter of the disease, the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 2,236, with a total of 75,465 confirmed cases.
Earlier this week, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference that the data from China appeared to show a decline in new cases.
Major health crisis
“The situation is indeed alarming as the first two confirmed cases of Covid-19 have both died in the same city and now three fresh cases have surfaced,” said Dr. Ghazal Hosseini, a physician from Qom.
Hosseini calls the epidemic a “major health crisis”, which is most likely to “create panic” in Iran.
“Authorities should have been prepared for it in advance but now it is their duty to reassure people and calm nerves,” she added.
Following the reports of two deaths on Wednesday, Iranian authorities immediately ordered the closure of all schools and universities in Qom on Thursday.
The move, officials said, is being taken to prevent the outbreak of the deadly virus and to restore calm.
Videos of riot police vehicles on Qom-Tehran freeway were doing rounds on social media late on Wednesday, with some social media users speculating that the authorities were quarantining the city of Qom to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
However, police officials told Anadolu Agency that the deployment had nothing to do with quarantine plans.
Fear and panic is clearly reflected on the faces of people after the confirmation of two deaths from the coronavirus.
"The news about corona deaths in Iran has shocked everyone. I could see less [number of people playing] footfall in a busy Enghelab Square today, which shows people are staying indoors," Amin Hashemi, a shopkeeper in downtown Tehran, told Anadolu Agency.
Businesses likely to suffer
Abid Hussain, a university student in Qom, told Anadolu Agency over phone that people were taken aback since two deaths were reported in the city.
"The news about two deaths and some new cases have created panic. Instructions have been issued not to wander outside without masks or shake hands with strangers, which means we cannot go to university or mosque or even market without fear," he said.
Mohammad Nazari, a hotelier from Qom, said he expects businesses to suffer due to the new health crisis.
"Qom is known for religious tourism that is the only source of revenue for traders here," he told Anadolu Agency over phone. "This news might discourage tourists and pilgrims from coming to the city until the crisis is over."
Will it affect voter turnout?
The news of five coronavirus-related deaths and 18 fresh cases came as Iran prepares for Friday’s parliamentary election. There are fears that it might affect the voter turnout in Tehran and Qom.
“As we can see people are moving around wearing masks, and many people are staying indoors after the news that coronavirus has reached Iran,” said Ishtiyaq Hussain, a university student in Tehran.
“It is highly likely that it will affect the voter turnout in major cities as people are panic-stricken,” Hussain said.
Iran votes on Friday to elect its 11th parliament.
*Writing by Ali Abo RezegAnadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.