Two elderly people have died in Iran after testing positive for the new coronavirus, according to health officials.
The deaths on Wednesday were the outbreak’s first fatalities in the Middle East.
The new virus has killed two elderly Iranian citizens, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported Wednesday.
IRNA quoted Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to the country’s health minister, as saying that both victims had been carrying the coronavirus and were located in Qom, about 140 kilometers (86 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
The state news agency said later that schools and universities in Qom would be closed so an investigation could take place. No additional details were released.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian authorities confirmed two cases of the new virus, the first in the country, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency. Officials later said the two patients had died.
ISNA quoted an official in the country’s health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour, as saying that “since last two days, some suspected cases of the new coronavirus were found.”
COVID-19, as the virus is officially known, was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December. It has since killed more than 2,000 people in mainland China and infected more than 75,000 globally. The two victims in Iran were the country’s first cases and only the seventh and eighth death caused by the virus outside mainland China.
Last month, the United Arab Emirates was the first country in the Middle East to report cases of the new coronavirus.
Emergency units set up
Meanwhile, during a visit earlier on Wednesday to Qom to assess the situation, Qasem Jan-Babaei, Iran’s deputy health minister, told local news agencies that the ministry had set up emergency units for the treatment of contagious diseases in the holy city.
“We urge people to avoid shaking hands and kissing, to observe personal hygiene and preferably avoid crowded places,” said Babaei, adding that there was no reason to panic.
“There have been no reports of coronavirus in other cities so far, but there is a possibility that cases may also arise in other cities.”
Ali Gholizadeh, an Iranian public health policy researcher at the University of Science and Technology of China, said Iran’s health ministry was prepared to manage the virus, but added that the victims’ relatives should be quarantined “until we are sure they are not infected”.
“People in Iran should not panic,” he stressed, citing the virus’s extremely low mortality rate.
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the coronavirus caused only mild disease in four out of five people infected.
Citing Chinese data, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 14 percent of those who get it suffer from severe complications such as pneumonia, five percent are in critical condition and two percent die from the disease.