An Iranian lawmaker reportedly has told colleagues to stop their contact with public as there are 23 cases of the new coronavirus among parliament members.
That’s according to lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri, who was quoted by Iranian state television’s Young Journalists Club program.
Iran’s supreme leader earlier on Tuesday ordered the Islamic Republic’s armed forces to assist its Health Ministry in combating the spread of the new coronavirus.
The decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes as Iran has seen the highest death toll from the new virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes outside of China, the epicenter of the virus.
After downplaying the coronavirus as recently as last week, Iranian authorities now say they have plans to potentially mobilize 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus.
Concern over the outbreak now stretches to Iran’s top leadership — some of whom have fallen ill from the virus.
An activist group also said Tuesday that Wikipedia’s Farsi-language website appeared to be disrupted in Iran after a close confidant to the supreme leader died of the new coronavirus.
The advocacy group NetBlocks linked the death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi to the disruption, though Iranian officials and its state media did not immediately acknowledge it. Authorities face increasing criticism from the Iranian public over the outbreak amid concerns the number of cases from the virus may be higher than currently reported.
The disruption raises fears of Iran potentially shutting off the internet entirely again, as it did for a week during economic protests in November. Iran separately has created its own so-called “halal” net of government-approved websites.
Experts still worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, now around 4.4%, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be far greater than current figures show. Saudi Arabia and Jordan meanwhile announced their first cases of the virus Monday.
Iran stands alone in how the virus has affected its government, even compared to hard-hit China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Mirmohammadi’s death makes him the highest-ranking official within Iran’s theocracy to be killed by the virus. The virus earlier killed Hadi Khosroshahi, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican, as well as a recently elected member of parliament.
Those sick include Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, better known as “Sister Mary,” the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis, state media reported. Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the Middle East’s largest airline, Emirates, said it had to reduce or ground flights due to the new virus. Because of the slowdown, the government-owned carrier has asked its employees to take paid and even unpaid leave for up to a month at a time. Emirates’ operates out of Dubai, the world’s busiest for international travel.
“We have been tested before and Emirates will come out stronger,” Chief Operating Officer Adel Al-Redha said.