DUBAI (Reuters) - Twelve people have died and 61 have been infected with the coronavirus in Iran, Tehran’s health ministry said on Monday.
However, a member of parliament said 50 people had died in the city of Qom, 120 km (75 miles) south of the capital Tehran, alone in the past two weeks from the coronavirus.
Meanwhile more than 10,000 drug addicts have been quarantined in treatment centers in Tehran province to guard against the coronavirus, state-run IRNA news agency reported, citing a local official.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur, quoted by IRNA, said: “The number of deaths from the corona illness in Iran has reached 12 and the number of infected has reached 61.”
But a parliamentarian representing Qom, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, said that 50 people had died in Qom and 250 people have been quarantined there.
Farahani accused the government of being late too announce the outbreak, and he said the city did not have adequate equipment to deal with the crisis, according to the ILNA news agency.
Ministry spokesman Jahanpur dismissed the figure of 50 dead as a “complete lie”.
“(Farahani) doesn’t have a right to express views on this issue and doesn’t have access to information,” Jahanpur said, according to IRNA.
Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi told a news conference on state television that if the number of dead in Qom were even one quarter of 50 he would resign.
However, the dispute over figures between the officials highlighted criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran by both officials and Iranian citizens online.
In another development, the head of anti-drug smuggling operations for Tehran province said approximately 10,500 drug addicts have been quarantined at treatment centers in Tehran.
“In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus illness among addicts, the treatment centers for addicts will not release or receive any individual until further notice,” Mostafa Hadizadeh said, according to IRNA.
Anyone suspected of having been infected with coronavirus would receive the necessary care as quickly as possible, Hadizadeh said.
The outbreak in Iran has affected other countries in the region.
Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman and Afghanistan on Monday recorded their first cases of the coronavirus, all involving people who had visited Iran.
The United Arab Emirates announced two new coronavirus cases on Saturday, an Iranian tourist and his wife, state news agency WAM reported. Lebanon recorded its first coronavirus case on Friday, a 45-year-old woman returning from Qom.
Fears of a coronavirus pandemic grew on Monday after sharp rises in new cases reported in Iran, Italy and South Korea. The virus has infected nearly 77,000 people and killed more than 2,500 in China, where it originated late last year.
Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Angus MacSwan