Pompeo urges Iran to reveal 'truth' on deadly coronavirus outbreak amid cover-up claims

Pompeo urges Iran to reveal 'truth' on deadly coronavirus outbreak amid cover-up claims
Iran has been urged to reveal the true circumstances of its deadly coronavirus outbreak, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.
4 min read
25 February, 2020
Iran has the highest death toll outside of China [Getty]
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday demanded that Iran "tell the truth" about a coronavirus outbreak, voicing alarm at allegations of a cover-up in the Islamic Republic.

"The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country," Pompeo told reporters in Washington.

"All nations including Iran should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organisations," he said.

Iran has reported 15 deaths from the epidemic, more than in any country other than China. Both countries are considered top adversaries by President Donald Trump's administration.

The Iranian government has pledged greater transparency after a lawmaker alleged that the clerical regime was playing down the outbreak and that the toll could be as high as 50.

Pompeo said that both China and Iran could have better contained coronavirus if they allowed free expression and he saluted foreign journalists who have reported on the epidemic.

Read also: Applying essential oil to anus 'cures coronavirus': Iranian cleric

"If China permitted its own important journals and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge," Pompeo said.

Pompeo said that the United States had quarantined all people known to have contracted the virus and that Washington would take further "appropriate action" if needed.

The comments came as Iran's deputy health minister said on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
A member of parliament has also been diagnosed with the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi coughed accassionally and appeared to be sweating when he appeared in Tehran at a government press conference on Monday to dispel claims of a high death toll from the virus.

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Lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani had alleged that 50 people had died from the virus in the Shia holy city of Qom alone - a figure far above the official number of nine at the time of his statement.

Harirchi denied the politician's claim and said he would resign if the number proved to be true.

In a video broadcast on state television, the deputy minister admitted he had been infected and pledged to overcome the virus.

"I too have been infected with coronavirus," Harirchi said.

"I had a fever as of last night and my preliminary test was positive around midnight," he said.

"I've isolated myself in a place since. A few minutes ago, I was told that my final test was final, and now I am starting medication.

"I wanted to tell you that... we will definitely be victorious against this virus in the next few weeks," Harirchi declared.

But he warned Iranians to be careful as the "virus does not discriminate" and infects anyone, regardless of standing.

Shortly after Harirchi's revelation, a politician representing the capital Tehran in parliament said he had also tested positive for the coronavirus.

"My corona test is positive... I don't have a lot of hope of continuing life in this world," Mahmoud Sadeghi said in a tweet.

Read also: Iran becomes epicentre of coronavirus in the Middle East, here's how Arab countries are preparing

He called on Iranian authorities to grant political prisoners compassionate release in order to prevent them from getting infected, Reuters reported.

According to the health ministry, most of the deaths and infections outside Qom are among people who have recently visited the holy city.

Despite being Iran's epicentre of the outbreak, Qom has yet to be quarantined. The virus has since spread to the capital, as well as Alborz, Gilan, Mazandaran, Fars, Khorasan Razavi and Qeshm island.

Health minister Saeed Namaki defended the decision on Tuesday, calling quarantine an "old method".

"We still do not agree with quarantining cities since we believe the people are cultured enough to refrain from travelling from infected cities to other places," semi-official news agency ISNA quoted him as saying.

Cross-border precautionary measures

A number of countries in the Middle East region have grounded flights and shuttered their borders with the Islamic Republic in recent days.

Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman all reported their first cases of the virus this week.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese government banned nationals from taking part in pilgrimages to Iran and other Middle East countries after a citizen tested positive upon return from the Islamic Republic.

Lebanese Muslims regularly fly to Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia for religious trips, including Mecca for Haj or Umrah.

Shia Muslims also regularly travel to Iran's holy city of Qom for pilgrimage.

Turkey said it had shut its borders with Iran on Sunday, but Turkish Airlines continues to operate flights from Tehran to Istanbul restricted to Turkish passengers.

A Tehran-Istanbul flight was redirected to Ankara's Esenboga airport on Tuesday after 17 passengers on board presented with symptoms of the coronavirus.

No cases of the virus have been detected in Turkey as of yet.

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