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Iran Supreme Leader Urges Support for Battle Against Virus as Death Toll Rises

FILE - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers Friday prayers sermon, in Tehran, Jan. 17, 2020. (Official Khamenei website/Handout via Reuters)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged Iranians to support the government in its battle against an outbreak of the coronavirus as the death toll rose to 77, the highest outside of China.

"Don't violate the recommendations and instructions of the responsible authorities in terms of prevention, in terms of keeping hands, face, and living environment clean and not infecting these and preventing the infection of these," he said in a Tuesday broadcast on state television.

A map of the coronavirus in Iran as of March 2, 2020. (VOA News)
A map of the coronavirus in Iran as of March 2, 2020. (VOA News)

After the broadcast, the Islamic republic announced that Khamenei had put the country’s armed forces on alert to help the Health Ministry combat the outbreak.

Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said 2,336 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Iran.

"Based on the latest statistics that have been compiled, there have been an additional 835 definite new infections. Unfortunately, we have 11 new deaths," he told state TV.

The outbreak has reached the upper echelons of Iran’s leadership, adding to fears that officials were slow to react to the virus amid accusations of a cover-up.

Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi died in a Tehran hospital of the virus, making the close confidant of Khamenei the highest-ranking official in the country to perish from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

FILE - People wearing protective masks shop at a pharmacy in the Iranian capital Tehran, Feb. 24, 2020.
FILE - People wearing protective masks shop at a pharmacy in the Iranian capital Tehran, Feb. 24, 2020.

The virus earlier killed lawmaker Hadi Khosroshahi, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican.

Among other officials who are infected are Vice President Masumeh Ebtekar and Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.

In all, 23 members of Iran’s parliament have tested positive for the virus, lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri said on state television on March 3.

Globally there have been more than 90,000 confirmations of infections of the coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Almost 3,000 people have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak began.

Across the Middle East, more than 1,150 cases of the virus have been documented, most of which link back to Iran, prompting a wave of aid and pledges of more.

Six World Health Organization (WHO) employees arrived in Tehran on March 2 along with 7.5 tons of medical gear, including protective gloves, face masks, and respirators.

Germany, France, and Britain have said they will shuttle medical supplies to Tehran.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has confirmed its first case of coronavirus after a male who recently traveled to Italy tested positive.

Deputy Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said on March 3 that the unidentified man arrived home in the southwestern city of Chernivtsi from a trip abroad and was subsequently diagnosed as having the coronavirus.

Two Ukrainian nationals tested positive for the virus, but they were passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and not in the country.