March 7, 2020 / 12:08 PM / 24 days ago

UPDATE 2-Coronavirus deaths rise to 145 in Iran, infections near 6,000 - ministry

(Adds comments by Iran’s foreign minister, Swiss government official, political background)

DUBAI, March 7 (Reuters) - Iran’s death toll from coronavirus reached 145 on Saturday after another 21 people were confirmed to have died during the last day, among them a conservative lawmaker from Tehran, officials and local news agencies said.

Announcing the latest deaths from the virus, a health ministry official said in a televised briefing that the tally of confirmed infections had increased by more than 1,000 during the last 24 hours, totaling 5,823 by Saturday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for world opposition to U.S. sanctions which he said were draining Iran’s resources needed in the fight against COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“(President Donald Trump) @realDonaldTrump is maliciously tightening US’ illegal sanctions with aim of draining Iran’s resources needed in the fight against #COVID19 - while our citizens are dying from it,” Zarif said in a tweet.

“The world can no longer be silent as US #EconomicTerrorism is supplanted by its #MedicalTerrorism,” Zarif said, without referring to any new sanctions.

Trump has said he hopes the sanctions will limit Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and influence across the Middle East. Tehran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and its missiles are for deterrence and defensive purposes.

In Zurich, a senior Swiss government official said on Saturday that a Swiss channel to export food and medicine to Iran’s struggling population without running afoul of U.S. sanctions is off to a good start, with dozens of companies keen to take part.

Iranian Lawmaker Fatehmeh Rahbar was among those who died on Friday, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, in another sign that the disease is spreading within state institutions.

On March 2, Tasnim reported the death of Mohammad Mirmohammadi. He was a member of the Expediency Council, an entity that resolves disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council - a hardline watchdog body.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi and another member of parliament, Mahmoud Sadeghi, have said they have also contracted the virus.

As authorities work to contain the outbreak, Iran’s Mosque Authority postponed all gatherings and celebrations until further notice, the Mehr news agency said.

Iran is the epicentre of the outbreak in the Middle East as most of the cases reported in the region are either people who were in Iran or who caught the virus from people who had visited the country. (Reporting by Dubai Newsroom Editing by Helen Popper and Matthew Lewis)

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