Iran's health ministry raised the death toll from the new coronavirus to eight Sunday, amid concerns that clusters there as well as in Italy and South Korea could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.
There were now 43 confirmed cases of the illness in Iran, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told state TV. That's a jump from a Saturday's total of 28 confirmed cases and six fatalities.
The outbreak in Iran has centered mostly on the city of Qom, but spread rapidly over the past few days to people in four other cities, including the capital, Tehran. Iranians also went to the polls on Friday for nationwide parliamentary elections, with many voters wearing masks and stocking up on hand sanitizer.
Iran is already facing diplomatic and economic isolation under U.S. pressure. The virus threatens to isolate Iran even further, with some countries now barring their citizens from traveling there.
Authorities shuttered schools in 10 provinces across the country for at least two days starting Sunday. Tehran University also suspended classes and shuttered its dormitories for several days. Those who live in student dorms were asked to return to their home towns and continue classes through the internet where possible.
Soccer fans across the country won't be allowed to attend matches,and shows in movie theaters and other venues were suspendeduntil Friday. Authorities have begundaily sanitizationof Tehran's metro, which is used by some 3 million people, and public transportation cars in the city.
Iran reported its first cases of the virus on Wednesday, announcing that same day that two elderly people had died from the virus in Qom. Schools and religious seminaries in the Shiite holy city were closed.
Jahanpour said the 15 newly confirmed cases included seven in Qom, four in Tehran, two in the northern Gilan province, one in the central Markazi province, and one from the town of Tonekabon in the northern Mazandaran province, who died of the illness.
Iran's Health Minister Saeed Namaki told state TV that officials were nearly certain the virus came from China to Qom in central Iran. He also said that among those who'd died 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.
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