By Babak Dehghanpisheh
DUBAI, March 2 (Reuters) – Iranian authorities uncovered a stash of hoarded medical supplies including millions of gloves as deaths from its coronavirus epidemic hit 66 including a senior official.
A World Health Organization (WHO) technical team flew into Tehran to help with the response in the country with the most deaths outside China, where the flu-like disease originated.
Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi announced on state television 523 new infections and 12 new deaths, giving a total of 1,501 cases and 66 fatalities.
Among the dead was Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of the Expediency Council, intended to resolve disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, a governmental body that vets electoral candidates among other duties, Tasnim news agency said.
Several other senior officials have been infected including Masoumeh Ebtekar, the vice president for women and family affairs, and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said a closure of schools announced on Saturday would continue through the end of this week, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The hoarded supplies, including 28 million medical gloves, were found in two warehouses in Kahrizak, a town about 25 km south of Tehran, a Revolutionary Guards commander, Hassan Hassanzadeh, told the Fars news agency.
Pharmacies are short of gloves and other supplies.
Anyone found hoarding medical supplies will be dealt with harshly, Iran‘s judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday, according to Mizan, the news site of the judiciary.
“Show no mercy to hoarders of medicine and medical supplies,” Raisi said in a message to prosecutors.
During its week-long visit, the four-person WHO team is to meet health officials and visit facilities and laboratories dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
Several countries in the region have reported coronavirus infections in people who have visited Iran. Among them was Saudi Arabia which on Monday announced its first case of the new coronavirus – a person that had come from Iran through Bahrain, the health ministry said, according to the state news agency.
Kuwait’s health ministry on Monday also reported 10 new cases in the last 24 hours, all of whom had been in Iran.
Qatar’s health ministry said on Monday that four more people had been diagnosed with coronavirus, among a group who were evacuated by the government on a private plane from Iran on Feb. 27. That raised total cases in Qatar to seven.
The United Arab Emirates sent a shipment of medical supplies, including gloves and surgical masks, to Iran on Monday, state news agency WAM reported.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh, Alaa Swilam and Hadeel Al Sayegh; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Andrew Cawthorne)