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Four Lawmakers In Iran Test Positive As Coronavirus Forces Cancellation Of Friday Prayers


Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar -- seen here in 2019 -- has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Four Iranian lawmakers have tested positive for the coronavirus as the rapid spread of the outbreak forced the cancellation of Friday Prayers in many mosques across the country.

Mohammad Ali Vakili, a member of the parliamentary presidium, said in a tweet on February 28 that four of 30 lawmakers in the Majlis, or parliament, tested positive for the virus.

Several other top Iranian officials have also contracted the virus, including Masoumeh Ebtekar, the vice president for women and family affairs, and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirshi.

The announcement about the four legislators came as the official number of deaths linked to the new coronavirus jumped by eight to 34 over the past 24 hours, with 388 people testing positive -- an increase of 143 on the previous day.

However, the BBC's Persian service said a count conducted by its unnamed sources in several hospitals suggested at least 210 people have died in the country as of the night of February 27. The Health Ministry vehemently denied the report.

Iran has become the main hot spot of the virus in the Middle East, and the country's officials have been accused of hiding the true scale of the outbreak.

Authorities canceled Friday Prayers in Tehran and 22 provincial capitals in response to the looming pandemic, while the Health Ministry advised against all public events, such as weddings or funerals. Schools and universities, along with cultural gathering places such cinemas, theaters, and concert halls, have all been closed.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country was not currently engaged in hostilities against its archrival, and had "made offers" to Tehran on technical assistance to deal with the outbreak.

"We have made offers to the Islamic republic to help," Pompeo told U.S. lawmakers.

Risk At 'Highest Level'

Meanwhile, the UN health agency has upgraded the global risk from the coronavirus to its highest level so far, as fresh infections rose across the globe despite a drop in China, the starting point of the epidemic.

"We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level," World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on February 28 in Geneva.

The spreading coronavirus threatened to derail the global economy as world stock markets dropped sharply again for a sixth consecutive day, winding up their worst week since the 2008 global financial crisis and erasing some $6 trillion from global market value.

COVID-19 has infected some 83,000 people in dozens of countries, causing 2,800 deaths. Most of the cases and deaths have been reported in China, where the disease emerged in December.

Countries on four continents reported their first cases of the coronavirus on February 28, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Mexico, and New Zealand.

Tedros pointed to the spread of the virus, which causes an illness known as COVID-19, from Italy and Iran to an additional countries six countries.

"The key to containing this virus is to break the chain of transmission," Tedros said, adding, "Our greatest enemy is not the virus itself, it's fear, rumors, and stigma and our greatest assets are facts, reason, and solidarity."

Belarus said tests conducted on an Iranian national who had arrived last week came back positive for the disease. The Health Ministry said the patient was in "satisfactory" condition and that he had been quarantined.

Azerbaijan's coronavirus crisis center said a Russian national traveling from Iran had tested positive for the disease, media reported.

Meanwhile, authorities in neighboring Georgia announced a second Georgian citizen had tested positive for the virus after returning from Italy -- another major center of infection.

Georgian health officials said the patient’s health condition is satisfactory.

Georgia's first reported case involved a 50-year-old man who had returned to the country from Iran via Azerbaijan, officials said.

Kyrgyzstan said it will bar citizens of China, Iran, South Korea, Japan and Italy from entering in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

The government said in a statement on February 28 that the temporary restrictions will come into effect on March 1.

The measure will not affect travelers with diplomatic passports, it said.

Kyrgyz officials haven't reported any cases of COVID-19 in the country.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, RFE/RL's Kyrgz Service, and dpa
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