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Coronavirus: First deaths reported in Middle East

February 19, 2020

The deadly COVID-19 virus claimed the lives of two people in Iran, in the first deaths to be reported in the Middle East. Tehran previously denied reports that people in the country were infected with the virus.

A staff member works in a laboratory in Wuhan, China amid a new coronavirus outbreak
Image: Imago Images/Xinhua

Two people in Iran have died after testing positive for the new coronavirus, COVID-19, Iranian officials said on Wednesday.

Iran's Health Ministry said that that the two patients were Iranian citizens and residents of the city of Qom, state news agency IRNA reported.

Both of the patients were reportedly elderly who had health issues that impacted their immunity.

"Following the recent cases of chronic respiratory diseases in Qom, two of the patients tested positive in preliminary tests," ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said, according to IRNA.

"Unfortunately both passed away in the intensive care unit due to old age and issues with their immune system."

Qom is a center for Islamic studies that draws scholars from across Iran and other countries. The two patients who died, however, were not known to have left Iran.

Prior to Wednesday's deaths, the Iranian government denied reports about people being infected with the virus in the country.

Read more: Coronavirus: Germany hopes to contain COVID-19

First fatalities in Middle East

Wednesday's deaths are the first to hit Iran, as well as the first to be reported in the Middle East. COVID-19 cases have also been reported in the United Arab Emirates as well as Egypt.

The new coronavirus has now killed eight people outside of China, which has been hit the hardest by the outbreak since it was first reported at the end of December.

The death toll in China rose to over 2,000 on Wednesday, with more than 74,000 confirmed cases across the country. The rate of new infections, however, has slowed down.

Earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of people who were quarantined for two weeks on a cruise ship in Japan were allowed to disembark after testing negative for the virus.

Over 620 people on the Diamond Princess contracted the illness on the ship, with Japan coming under fire for its quarantine arrangements for passengers.

rs/ng (AFP, dpa)

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