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Iranian vice president latest official infected with coronavirus

Fellow government officials infected with the virus include country's deputy health minister, a senior MP, and a former ambassador
Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran's vice president for women's affairs, has tested positive for the coronavirus, but her case is reportedly mild (AFP)

One of Iran's vice presidents, Masoumeh Ebtekar, has been infected with coronavirus, state media reported on Thursday, as the Islamic Republic reported one of the highest numbers of fatalities from the virus outside of China.

Iranian authorities said on Thursday that the death toll in the country from coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, had reached 26, with 245 identified patients, including a number of senior politicians.

Iran's deputy health minister tests positive for coronavirus
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Ebtekar, 59, serves as the vice president for women and family affairs - one of around 10 current vice-presidential portfolios in Iran. According to state news agency IRNA, her symptoms have been reported to be mild.

Ebtekar was a prominent face of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 when she volunteered as a spokeswoman for the Iranian students who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.  

Meanwhile, Hadi Khosroshahi, former Iranian ambassador to the Vatican and Egypt, has died after contracting the virus at the age of 81, according to Iranian media.

According to IRNA news agency, Khosroshahi died on Thursday at a hospital in Tehran after being infected with the virus in the holy city of Qom, the epicentre of the outbreak in the country. 

Other Iranian officials infected with the virus include the country's deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, and MP Mojtabi Zolnour.

Zolnour, who is also the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in parliament, announced in a Twitter video that he has tested positive for the virus.

Friday prayers cancelled

The outbreak prompted authorities to call off Friday prayers in several cities, including Tehran, state TV later reported, while state news agency IRNA said Iran has banned Chinese citizens from entering the country.

"In the last 24 hours, we have had 106 (new) confirmed cases," Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV, calling on Iranians to avoid "unnecessary trips inside the country".

Jahanpur said there were plans to impose some restrictions at Shia Muslim holy sites and cancel some sermons on Friday, the day of public prayer.

"It needs the approval of the president before being carried out," he said, adding that hundreds of those suspected of being infected by the virus had recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Meanwhile, Iran's foreign ministry said "some 20,000 coronavirus test kits and some other material" would be delivered to Iran on Friday from China.

"A Mahan airplane will transfer this cargo, which has been prepared by China's Red Cross, to Iran," said the ministry's spokesman Abbas Mousavi, according to state TV.

The outbreak of COVID-19 originated in China in December 2019, where it has reportedly killed more than 2,500 people.

The World Health Organisation reported in February that, on average, 80 percent of COVID-19 cases report only mild, flu-like symptoms, and just 2 percent of cases have resulted in death.

While COVID-19 has a far lower death rate than epidemics of similar viruses such as SARS or MERS, it has spread far wider.