Iran's health minister said Sunday that travel from China brought the new virus to the country, amid concerns that coronavirus clusters in Iran, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.
Saeed Namaki told state TV that the virus came from China to the holy city of Qom in central Iran. He said that one of the Iranian dead from the virus was a merchant who regularly shuttled between the two countries using indirect flights in recent weeks, after Iran stopped direct passenger flights to China.
Namaki also defended the government's handling of the outbreak, saying it was being “transparent.” He said it would help make face-masks and sanitizers available for Iranians, amid concerns that stocks were running low in the capital's pharmacies.
Iran is also producing kits for diagnosis of the infection, he added.
Namaki urged people not to visit Qom, which is a major destination for Shiite pilgrims.
“We obviously do not recommend traveling to Qom and other pilgrimage cities," Namaki said.
Iran reported its first case of the virus last Wednesday, and six deaths from the illness since then. That's the highest death toll from the virus outside of China, where the outbreak first emerged a couple months ago.
Iran has confirmed 28 cases in total in at least four different cities, including the capital, Tehran, so far.