The Iranian government has denied trying to cover up the full extent of the coronavirus outbreak after reports suggested the death toll from the disease was more than four times higher than official figures claim.
On Monday, a lawmaker from Qom – a Shia holy city 75 miles (120km) south of the capital, Tehran, which has had a cluster of cases – accused Iran’s health minister of “lying” about the scale of the outbreak.
According to the semi-official ILNA news agency, which is close to reformists, the lawmaker, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, said there had been 50 deaths from the coronavirus in Qom alone.
“The rest of the media have not published this figure, but we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people’s lives are in danger,” Fatemeh Madiani, the ILNA editor, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
But the country’s deputy health minister rejected the report. In a news conference broadcast live on state television, Iraj Harirchi said that 12 people had died from the coronavirus and 66 had been infected.
“I categorically deny this information,” said Iraj Harirchi. “This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem.”
Iran’s government pledged to be transparent about the outbreak.