Coronavirus: Iranian officials warn of strained health facilities as cases near 14,000

Iran’s official leading its response to the new coronavirus acknowledged Sunday the pandemic could overwhelm health facilities in his country, which is battling the worst outbreak in the Mideast while under heavy U.S. sanctions. Iran also reported 113 new deaths from the virus, bringing its death toll to 724.

Muslim authorities, meanwhile, announced that the Al-Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, would be closed indefinitely due to concerns about the outbreak, with prayers continuing to be held on the sprawling esplanade outside.

Similar measures have been taken at the nearby Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, where outdoor prayers continue but only 10 people at a time are permitted in enclosed areas, in keeping with measures taken by the Israeli government.

Iran is battling one of the worst outbreaks outside China. The 113 new deaths reported on Sunday by the Health Ministry were the first time a daily reported death toll exceeded 100. The fatalities brought the country’s death toll to 724 so far, amid nearly 14,000 confirmed cases. The real number of infections could be even higher, as questions have been raised about the government’s transparency.

“If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity,” Ali Reza Zali, who is leading the campaign against the outbreak, was quoted as saying earlier by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Iran is believed to have around 110,000 hospital beds, including 30,000 in the capital, Tehran. Authorities have pledged to set up mobile clinics as needed.

Zali also acknowledged that “many” of those who have died from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus were otherwise healthy, a rare admission by local authorities that the virus does not only prey on the sick and elderly.

Health Ministry figures show that while 55 per cent of fatalities were in their 60s, some 15 per cent were younger than 40.

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