An Iranian woman wears a protective face mask, following the coronavirus outbreak, as she walks in Tehran. Reuters
Iran urged people to stay at home, avoid unnecessary journeys and spread no rumours about the coronavirus on Wednesday after the death toll from the virus rose to 354 in the country.
"We have identified 958 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the last 24 hours, increasing the total number of cases to 9,000 across Iran," Kianush Jahanpur, a health ministry spokesman, told state television. "Also 63 people have lost their lives in the past 24 hours."
In moves to prevent panic over the coronavirus in Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, President Hassan Rouhani appealed to people not to spread rumours and the judiciary banned most officials from announcing numbers of those infected.
"Only the health ministry ... is in charge of announcing figures ... violators will be charged with acting against national security," said Iran's prosecutor-general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri in a statement, state TV reported.
Across the Mideast, the vast majority of the 9,700 people who have contracted the coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness it causes are in hard-hit Iran or had recently returned from there. The Islamic Republic has one of the world's worst death tolls outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak. Outside of Iran, only Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon have recorded deaths from the virus in the Middle East.
Elsewhere, Lebanese Health Ministry official said a man has died from the coronavirus, marking the first known death from the COVID-19 illness in the country.
The official says the 56-year-old man had recently returned from Egypt. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements.
The Mediterranean country has 41 confirmed cases of of the new coronavirus -- most of them linked to Iran. At least one patient who returned from Iran has left the hospital after two weeks successful treatment.
Lebanon has been hit by a severe financial and economic crisis since October, particularly after mass protests against the country's ruling elite broke out in October. But street demonstrations have been minimal since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Across the region, there are over 8,600 confirmed cases of the virus. Worldwide, there are over 110,000 confirmed cases of the new virus, with more than 3,800 deaths attributed to it. The number of people who have recovered is about 62,000.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.
The outbreak has infected a host of senior officials, politicians, clerics and members of the elite Revolutionary Guards in Iran, the fourth worst-affected nation after China, South Korea and Italy.
Taimur Saleem Jhagra, the Health Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where both victims died, told AFP the men had recently travelled internationally.
"We are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterised as a pandemic," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday.
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