Iran's foreign minister jokes he doesn't have coronavirus in awkward clip

Iran's foreign minister jokes he doesn't have coronavirus in awkward clip
Iran has denied that 50 people have died from coronavirus in Qom.
2 min read
24 February, 2020
He made the joke whilst meeting the Austrian FM [Getty]
Iran's foreign minister joked that he was "not infected with the new coronavirus", as he appeared to make light of a disease which one lawmaker claims has killed as many as 50 people in the Iranian city of Qom.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif had invited his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg to Tehran, where the pair held talks.

At one point Zarif walked towards Schallenberg, and before shaking hands laughingly remarked that he was "not infected with the new coronavirus".

"I swear to God that I am not infected with the coronavirus," he said smiling.

The joke, which many said was in poor taste, comes as 12 confirmed deaths were reported in Iran due to coronavirus.

The Iranian government earlier today was forced to deny claims that 50 people died in Qom from coronavirus, which had been previously reported by Iran's ILNA news agency. 
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Iran's deputy health minister rejected accusations that the government is covering up the deaths, but authorities have acknowledged that the death toll has gone up to 12.

Iran's health minister vowed to resign if it could be proven that even half that number had died.

"I categorically deny this information," Iraj Harirchi told a news conference.

"This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem," he added.

Travel to Iran suspended

Four immediate neighbours of the Islamic Republic - Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Armenia - said on Sunday they would close land borders, while three imposed restrictions on air traffic, amid growing regional concerns about the spread of the virus.

Read: Clash of the internet: The rise of Iran's cyber warfare against US and the Gulf

Oman also banned flights to Iran on Monday after two people contracted the virus in the country. 

Iraqi and Kuwaiti authorities have already banned travel to and from Iran.

Lebanon has confirmed its first case - a 45-year-old Lebanese woman who had travelled from Qom in Iran - and Israel on Sunday quarantined at home nearly 200 school pupils who came into contact with South Korean tourists who contracted the virus.

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