Coronavirus: Canada upgrades Iran health caution

The Canadian government has issued a travel health notice for Iran, as the country’s total number of COVID-19 continues to skyrocket.

Similar to the advice given for traveling to South Korea and Italy, Iran’s notice is at “level two,” instructing people to practice “special precautions." This level of notice is issued, for example, if there is a newly identified disease in the region, or an outbreak limited to a specific area. 

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The notice states that community spread of COVID-19 has been reported in Iran, where 143 new cases were reported Friday, bringing its total to 388.

Globally, there are 84,187 cases and 2,876 deaths as of Friday. 

“This (report of community spread) means it is unknown how or where some people became infected, and the spread is ongoing. The extent of the spread is currently unclear,” states the notice.

It adds that older people and people with weakened immune systems or underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing severe disease.

Iranian officials tested positive for virus

Iraj Harirchi, the country’s deputy health minister and Masoumeh Ebtekar, one of Iran’s vice presidents, as well as other officials, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Harirchi appeared on a televised news conference Feb. 24 — announcing the country was getting the outbreak under control — in Tehran coughing, heavily sweating and wiping his brow. 

The next day, he confirmed he had tested positive for the virus. 

The country has reported the highest number of deaths — 34 as of Friday — from the virus outside of China.

While Iran’s number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb, a member of Richmond’s Iranian community recently told the Richmond News the situation in his homeland is much worse than is being reported.

According to the man, who asked not to be named, his relatives in Iran believe the country’s death toll from the virus is more than 100.

“There are different groups giving out very different information,” he told the News, adding that some news is from relatives and some from social media.

“We’re hearing stories of people getting refused entry to hospitals, being told they’re fine and then dying.”

Iran’s government has rejected claims of a much higher death toll made by Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the city of Qom, where the first cases were reported. The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government’s transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak.

In a study published Feb. 24, a group of researchers from the University of Toronto calculated Iran likely has more than 18,000 cases of coronavirus. They based their mathematical model on the number of infections in other countries that trace to Iran — Canada, the UAE and Lebanon — using travel and flight data. 

“Given the low volumes of air travel to countries with identified cases of COVID-19 with origin in Iran (such as Canada), it is likely that Iran is currently experiencing a COVID-19 epidemic of significant size,” reads the study.

Earlier this week, Iranian cyberpolice announced they had arrested 24 people, who were accused of online rumour-mongering about the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Recent Canadian cases link to Iran

A number of cases in Canada are linked to Iran, all of which have been confirmed in the past week.  

In B.C., two individuals — the province’s most recent cases, six and seven — in the Fraser Health Region have tested positive for the COVID-19.

Case six, a woman in her 30s, recently returned from Iran while case seven, a man in his 40s, is a close contact of hers. The cases were confirmed by health officials Feb. 20 and Feb. 24.

In Ontario, a woman in her 60s who had recently been to Iran tested positive for the virus, and is that province’s fifth confirmed case. The case was reported Feb. 24.

On Feb. 26, Ontario health officials confirmed her husband, also in his 60s, had also contracted the virus, the province’s first case of human-to-human transmission.

Quebec also announced its first case of coronavirus Feb. 26, a woman from the Montreal region who returned from Iran Feb. 24.

On Friday, Ontario confirmed another case linked to Iran, a man in his 50s who arrived in Toronto from Iran on Feb. 25, and went to the emergency department at Sunnybrooke Health Sciences Centre the next day.

In total, Canada has confirmed 14 cases of COVID-19.

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