Iranian officials squabble over toll as COVID-19 sweeps West Asia

Meanwhile, Chinese federal government to increase funds to local governments even as world races to develop a vaccine

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 24 February 2020
Shiite clergymen wearing masks in Iran.Photo: @barrandazam / Twitter

Two Iranian government officials got into a spat on February 24, 2020, over how many citizens had succumbed to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as it swept the country and other parts of West Asia, news wire agencies reported.

First, Iran’s deputy health minister, Itraj Harirchi announced that 12 people had died and 61 had been infected in Iran, early on February 24.

Barely a few hours later, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a member of the Majlis, or Iran’s national Parliament, told the country’s official ILNA news agency that 50 people had died in the city of Qom, 120 kilometres south of Tehran.

Farhani who represents Qom, one of Shia Islam’s holiest cities, said the 50 deaths had occurred in Qom in the past two weeks. He added that the federal government had been late in announcing the outbreak of COVID-19 and that Qom did not have adequate medical equipment to deal with the crisis.

In reply, Harirchi said on national television that he would resign if the death toll in Qom was even a quarter of 50.

The World Health Organization (WHO)’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has expressed concern over the virus’ spread in Iran.

Meanwhile, the virus has fanned out of Iran into other countries of West Asia.

Kuwait as well as Bahrain confirmed their first cases of COVID-19. The infected are all people who had visited Iran, according to state media.

The United Arab Emirates announced two new COVID-19 cases on February 22, according to the state news agency WAM. Lebanon also recorded its first coronavirus case on February 21. In both countries, the patients had links to Iran.

Meanwhile, China’s local governments will suffer an “interim impact” on fiscal revenue and expenditure from the COVID-19 epidemic, international news agency Reuters reported on February 24.

China has allocated 99.5 billion yuan ($14.16 billion) so far to tackle the outbreak.

The federal government will increase the amount and speed of transfer payments to local governments to help them, China’s Assistant Finance Minister Ou Wenhan told a news conference in Beijing, according to Reuters.

Hunt for vaccine

As COVID-19 sweeps across the world, the hunt is on to find a vaccine for it.

Among those leading the charge are the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an international, not-for-profit with the mandate to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.

On January 23, 2020, CEPI announced financial support to the United States-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc, the University of Queensland in Australia as well as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Maryland, US for the development of a vaccine.

CEPI announced a partnership with biotech firm CureVAC on January. On February 4, it called for proposals to develop new vaccines against COVID-19.

Pharma giants like Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline have also announced plans to develop vaccines.

Meanwhile, the University of Hong Kong announced it already had a vaccine, designed from a modified influenza virus vaccine.

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