The severity of the COVID-19 virus has been underscored by a pair of coronavirus-caused deaths that have rocked Iran, a country that has previously reported zero cases of the deadly illness.
The BBC’s Persian-language site reported the two deaths on Wednesday.
The two men tested positive for the virus before dying in the Iranian city of Qom, a holy city that is a favorite destination for religious pilgrims.
These are the first deaths from the novel coronavirus from the Middle East to be reported. Before this, only three deaths from the virus were confirmed outside of China.
There have been suspected cases in Iran, but a Wednesday World Health Organization update listed the Islamic republic as free from the virus.
After the two deaths, fear of the virus is now gripping the country.
According to the BBC, three more people are now being held in a hospital over concerns they may have contracted COVID-19. This comes as Iran’s deputy minister of health issued a statement identifying six confirmed cases in the holy city.
The deaths come less than two weeks after massive rallies held all across Iran celebrating the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
— Iran (@Iran) February 11, 2020
With a lengthy incubation period that is projected to be as long as two weeks, it’s entirely possible the virus is already making its way across the ill-prepared country.
Even in China, a country geared to respond to viral epidemics, serious measures like city-wide quarantines have been shown to be less effective than hoped.
A closed environment, like that seen on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, has some worried that traditional quarantines are not effective at all.
Iran’s Ministry of Health is now urging residents of Qom to note any flu-like symptoms, as they may be caused by the COVID-19 virus.
Respiratory illnesses are already moving like wildfire across the city, which means the perfect conditions likely exist for coronavirus’ spread as well.
“We have witnessed the spread of respiratory diseases in Qom over the past 7 days,” head of Qom University of Medical Sciences Mohammad Reza Ghadir told the BBC.
It’s unclear how Iran plans to combat the virus in the event of a city-wide pandemic, or if the Islamic Republic even has the resources to mount a defense at all.
If the virus has a foothold in the country, there’s no telling how bad it may get before Iranian officials finally have the situation under control.
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