Iranian Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar has become infected with the coronavirus, state news in Tehran reported Thursday, adding to the already mounting concern in the country as the virus continues to spread.

Ebtekhar, who advises President Hassan Rouhani on family and women’s matters, was placed under quarantine. Iran has struggled to contain the spread of the virus, which causes a disease called COVID-19, and also confirmed Thursday that 26 people in Iran have died from the virus. More than 400 are suspected of carrying it, and Iran has confirmed 245 cases.

In a message to medical staff on Thursday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the effort to contain the virus and treat the victims as a “difficult and momentous task.”

Iran cancelled the main Friday prayers in Tehran and 22 other cities for the first time in decades to limit the spread of the new coronavirus disease.

It also placed some restrictions on access to major Shia Muslim shrines in Qom, the epicentre of the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, and Mashhad.

Schools will also close for three days from Saturday, with the health minister warning of a “very difficult week”.

Officials have reported 388 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 34 related deaths.

The death toll is by far the highest outside China, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the outbreak may be worse than realised.

The Atlantic said in a latest report, the Coronavirus crisis could break the Iranian society when the government has refused to impose quarantines and is encouraging people to visit the city of Qom, the center of the outbreak.

the quarantine measures that Iran has rejected are imperfect, and they would stigmatize Qom unfairly. But the current situation of what appears to be virtually uncontrolled pathogen spread is accelerating the pandemic, and right now the most valuable commodity is time—time to stockpile medicine, improve diagnosis and treatment, and teach the world how to react to a plague that may kill millions. The quarantine in China seems to be buying us time. The lack of one in Iran is spending it away.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared irritated almost immediately during Friday’s Iran hearing on Capitol Hill as Democrats used their very first question to grill the top US diplomat on the administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, CNN reported.

The U.S. has offered to help Iran manage the response to the coronavirus breakout, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday, but expressed concerns that Tehran has not been “robust” in sharing information about the spread of the disease.

“We’ve made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran and we make clear to others around the world and the region that assistance, humanitarian assistance to push back against the coronavirus in Iran is something that the United States of America fully supports,” Mr. Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Edited by Winnie Troppie

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