February 26, 2020 / 9:47 AM / a month ago

Nineteen dead, 139 infected with coronavirus in Iran - health ministry

DUBAI (Reuters) - Nineteen people have died and 139 people have been infected by coronavirus in Iran, health ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on Wednesday in an announcement on state TV.

Iran has had the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged in late 2019.

Iranian officials announced the first deaths and infections from coronavirus in the Islamic Republic last week, and the spike in numbers in a short period of time has led Iranians to criticize authorities online and accuse them of a cover-up, a charge officials have denied.

Several of Iran’s neighbours have closed their borders and banned flights from Iran due to fears over the virus, which could hurt the Islamic Republic’s already fragile economy.

Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan have all reported cases of coronavirus involving people who travelled to Iran.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that coronavirus must not become an enemy weapon that prevents business in Iran, according to the official presidency website.

Iran’s economy has been battered since the United States withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

“Corona should not be turned into a weapon of our enemies for shutting down work and production in the country,” Rouhani said. “The Americans and our enemies during this time, around two years of which have passed, have wanted, with their sanctions and propaganda, to shut down production and economic activities in this country and for the people to suffer.”

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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