Health

WHO sends medics to Iran, where virus toll jumps to 66

The UN World Health Organisation on Monday sent its first planeload of assistance to help fight coronavirus in Iran, the second-worst hit country after China, as the death toll rose by 12 to 66 in the Islamic republic. Iran’s confirmed cases leapt by 523 from the previous day to 1,501, said Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi.

Regional countries have especially worried about the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran.

In the Gulf region, some 129 cases have been confirmed across the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar — many of them pilgrims returning from Iran, especially the Shiite holy city of Qom.

US President Donald Trump had Saturday offered that “if we can help the Iranians with this problem, we are certainly willing to do so… All they have to do is ask.”

Tehran on Monday however rejected the offer from Trump — who has heaped sanctions and a campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran — charging he had made it “for propaganda purposes”.

“We are suspicious of the intentions of the Americans and do not count on this aid,” said foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Moussavi, as quoted by the official agency IRNA.

China’s foreign ministry said an expert team from the Chinese Red Cross had arrived on Saturday in Tehran “to provide what assistance it can in terms of epidemic prevention and control and medical relief”.

The WHO meanwhile dispatched six medics with tonnes of medical equipment and test kits aboard a UAE military aircraft to Iran’s capital, where it arrived later Monday.

“Today’s flight will carry 7.5 tonnes of medical equipment and supplies, primarily the critical items needed for infection prevention and control to support health care workers in Iran,” said Robert Blanchard, from the WHO in Dubai.

As the supplies worth more than USD 300,000 — including gloves, surgical masks and respirators — were loaded onto the United Arab Emirates military transport plane in Dubai, Blanchard warned that global supplies were running low.

“What we see now is that demand has greatly exceeded our available stocks… and we are struggling to get access to more supplies.”

The six-member medical team is made up of doctors, epidemiologists and laboratory specialists to help the Islamic republic detect and control the virus, Blanchard said, adding it was the first WHO team to be sent to Iran since the crisis began.

WHO operations manager Nevien Attalla said some 15,000 health workers in Iran would benefit from the supplies which were the “first big shipment which supports the response to coronavirus”.

“Iran is a challenging country. You don’t have always easy approvals to go,” she said.

The UAE provided the military transport plane for the flight to Tehran despite having downgraded its relations with the Islamic republic amid fierce rivalry between Iran and regional power Saudi Arabia.

Gulf states have announced a raft of measures to cut links with Iran to curb the spread of the virus, cutting off transport links and telling citizens not to visit.

“Aid should reach all people regardless of their background,” Sultan Mohammed Al Shamsi, the UAE’s undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, said at Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport.

Iran’s IRNA agency meanwhile reported the death of Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 72, a member of the Expediency Council which advises the supreme leader.It did not specify the cause of death but said he had died at Tehran’s Massih Danechvari Hospital, the capital’s main centre for patients suffering from the new coronavirus.

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