Middle East

Coronavirus: Iran reports two suspected fatal cases at Qom hospital

File photo showing people walking past the shrine of Fatima Masumeh in Qom, Iran (9 February 2020) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Qom is the location of the shrine of Hazrate Masoumeh, a revered female saint in Shia Islam

Iran's health ministry says two people have died after preliminary tests came back as positive for the new coronavirus disease, Covid-19.

Spokesman Kianush Jahanpour tweeted that they died due to their "old age and deficient immune systems" while being treated in hospital in Qom.

Deputy Health Minister Qasem Janbabaei told the Young Journalists' Club (YJC) that they were both Iranian nationals.

They were the first two suspected cases of Covid-19 to be announced in Iran.

State news agency IRNA reported that they had not travelled abroad or even outside of Qom province prior to their deaths.

The agency later said that schools and universities in the province would be closed on Thursday as a precaution against further spread of the disease.

Mr Janbabaei was quoted by the YJC as saying that "for the time being we have no reports at all" of cases outside Qom.

BBC Persian understands that 25 people are being quarantined in the same hospital on suspicion that they might have Covid-19.

More on the coronavirus outbreak

Elsewhere in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has confirmed nine cases - all involving Chinese citizens - but so far no deaths.

In Egypt, a foreign national previously confirmed to have Covid-19 was recovering after the latest tests showed he was no longer carrying the virus, the World Health Organization said. He will remain in quarantine until the full 14-day period is over.

Earlier on Tuesday, the WHO said there had been 75,197 reported cases of Covid-19 and 2009 related deaths. All but 918 of the cases and three of the deaths had been reported in China.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference that the data from China appeared to show a decline in new cases.

"Outside China, we have seen a steady drip of new cases, but we have not yet seen sustained local transmission, except in specific circumstances like the Diamond Princess cruise ship," he added.

At least 542 passengers and crew on the ship, which is quarantined in Japan, have so far been infected with the Covid-19 virus. The ship was carrying 3,700 people in total.