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Coronavirus: Senior adviser to Iran's supreme leader infected

Ali Akbar Velayati, one of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's closest aides, enters quarantine as supreme leader says virus could be part of 'biological attack'
Iran is worst-infected country in Middle East with at least 10,000 cases and 429 deaths (AFP)

A senior adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been infected with the new coronavirus, local media reported on Thursday.

"Ali Akbar Velayati, who also is the head of Tehran's Masih Daneshvari hospital, had contacts with many coronavirus patients in past few weeks. He has been infected and is under quarantine now," the semi-official Fars news agency said.

Earlier on Thursday, Khamenei said the outbreak could be part of a "biological attack" on the Islamic Republic, as he called on the armed forces to bolster the government's fight against the disease.

According to a statement published by Fars, Khamenei called on the military to work closely with Iran's health ministry and establish a base dedicated to countering the virus. 

"Given that there's evidence that raises the possibility of this event being a biological attack, this initiative can also be an exercise in biological defense," Khamenei said in the statement.

Iran is now the worst-infected country in the Middle East and third worldwide, following China and Italy, recording at least 10,000 cases and 429 deaths.

The Islamic Republic recorded its highest single-day death toll from the novel coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, on Wednesday with 63 confirmed deaths.

Senior Iranian officials, including vice presidents, have contracted the virus. At least seven officials and lawmakers, including an advisor to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have died from the virus.