Former Iranian ambassador becomes seventh official to die from coronavirus as thousands more infected

Former Iranian ambassador becomes seventh official to die from coronavirus as thousands more infected
Hossein Sheikholeslam, an adviser to Iran’s foreign minister, has died aged 68 from the novel coronavirus, which has spread to over 4700 Iranian citizens including many high-level politicians and officials.
3 min read
06 March, 2020
Hossein Sheikholeslam (L) pictured with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal (R) in 2000 [Getty]

A senior advisor to the Iranian foreign minister has died from the novel coronavirus, the official IRNA news agency has reported.

The news was followed by official confirmation that the number of cases had soared by over a thousand on Friday. 17 more people had died.

"We have confirmed 1,234 new cases, which is a record in the past few days," health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference, raising the total number of infections to 4,747.

The new cases "are probably those who had been infected with the virus two weeks ago and have just came to us with symptoms," he added.

Among those killed by the illness on Thursday was Hossein Sheikholeslam, a 68-year old former diplomat, IRNA reported, hailing him as "a veteran and revolutionary."

Seven of those who died from coronavirus are politicians or government officials.

Before his death Sheikholeslam served as an adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

A former ambassador to Syria, he also served as deputy foreign minister from 1981 to 1997.

Sheikholeslam was also involved in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, during which Iranian students stormed the the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage shortly after the US-backed Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Islamic revolution.

The crisis prompted Washington to sever diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980. The hostages were freed in January 1981, after 444 days in captivity.

The novel coronavirus has also claimed the lives of other high-profile Iranian officials, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi of the Expediency Council which advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mohammad Ali Ramezani, a member of parliament and Mojtaba Pourkhanali, an agriculture ministry official have also died from the coronavirus. They were both from Gilan, one of the country's worst-hit provinces.

Other officials who have died from coronavirus include Ahmad Toyserkani, an advisor to the head of Iran's judiciary; Hadi Khosroshahi, a former amabassador to the Vatican; and Mojtaba Fazeli, a secretary to a senior cleric.

Tehran MP Fatemeh Rahbar is currently in a coma after being infected, according to ISNA news agency.

A host of other officials have been infected and are under quarantine, including vice-president for women's and family affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar, deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi and Grand Ayatollah Musa Shobairi Zanjani, who is considered one of the highest religious authorities.

Iran has closed schools and universities, suspended major cultural and sporting events and reduced working hours across the country to halt the rapid spread of the virus, which has spread to all of its 31 provinces.

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