Iraj Harirchi was taken into quarantine just a day after insisting that Iran's death toll was lower than feared in a sweaty appearance at a press conference (pictured left). Harirchi's diagnosis is the latest sign of Tehran's blundering efforts to contain the virus as the official death toll rose to 15 today. The regime has refused to seal off the holy city of Qom (bottom right) at the centre of the crisis even as pilgrims spread the virus around the Middle East and Iranians face shortages of masks and testing kits (some of them are pictured at a pharmacy, top right; an Iranian suspected virus patient is seen in hospital in Iraq, inset). A series of Middle East governments have imposed travel bans after the virus spread across the region and Turkey today ordered a jet to be diverted on its way from Tehran to Ankara.
Moment Iran's deputy HEALTH minister comes down with coronavirus at press conference to reassure nation that the country's death toll was lower than feared
Even according to official figures, Iran has the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East with at least 95 people now infected - an increase of 34 since yesterday - and three new deaths bringing the toll to 15.
However, there is strong suspicion that the true figures are much higher, with one lawmaker declaring yesterday that 50 people had died in the city of Qom.
Qom, where the virus is believed to have arrived in Iran from China, is a major destination for Shi'ite pilgrims from around the Middle East.
But despite the growing crisis, the governor of Qom declared last night that locking down the city was 'not an appropriate solution', Iranian media said.
A series of Middle East governments have imposed travel bans after the virus spread across the region and Turkey today ordered a jet to be diverted on its way from Tehran to Ankara.
Iranians had been facing shortages of medical supplies even before the new coronavirus broke out in Qom.
The medical shortages kicked in after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran in 2018.
Since then, panic has broken out over a lack of face masks, with health experts still unsure exactly how the virus spreads.
Health workers also face a lack of testing kits, meaning that coronavirus cases could go unnoticed for days - allowing the outbreak to spread further.
There are also claims that pharmacies are facing shortages of hand-sanitising gels which could help to contain the outbreak in Qom and around the country.
Washington had exempted humanitarian goods including medicines and medical equipment from its punitive measures.
But purchases of such supplies are hindered by banks being wary of conducting any business with Iran, for fear of falling foul of sanctions themselves.
Qom lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani told a session of parliament in Tehran yesterday that 50 people had died in the holy city.
'I think the performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful,' he said, in the most public rebuke of the Iranian regime to date.
Farahani said the 50 deaths in Qom date back to February 13, whereas Iran first officially reported cases of the virus on February 19.
He also claimed that 250 people had been quarantined in the city, which is around 75 miles south of Tehran.
'None of the nurses have access to proper protective gears,' Farahani said, adding that some health care specialists had left the city.
'So far, I have not seen any particular action to confront corona by the administration.'
Health minister Harirchi rejected the Qom lawmaker's claims, insisting the death toll from the virus remains at 12.
'No one is qualified to discuss this sort of news at all,' Haririchi said, adding that lawmakers have no access to coronavirus statistics.
However, Farahani's announcement sparked claims that Iran was covering up the full scale of the crisis.
Iran faced anger from its own citizens over an attempted cover-up just last month, after claiming falsely that a passenger jet with dozens of Iranians on board had crashed by accident.
The plane was actually shot down by Iranian Revolutionary Guards at the height of Tehran's stand-off with Washington after the death of Qassem Soleimani.
The coronavirus outbreak has sparked renewed criticism of the regime by Iranian social media users in recent days.
'Widespread public mistrust regarding the official figures is more dangerous than the coronavirus,' journalist Siavash Fallahpour said.
Harirchi's denials lost further credibility today when he himself came down with the virus.
The minister said he had quarantined himself at his home and promised that authorities would bring the virus under control.
Harirchi had been visibly uncomfortable and wiped his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief during yesterday's press conference.
Iran's health minister Saeed Namaki has defended Iran's handling of the outbreak, saying it was being 'transparent' despite the contradictory figures.
Namaki told state TV that officials were nearly certain the virus came from China to Qom in central Iran.
He also said that among those who died from the virus was a merchant who regularly shuttled between the two countries using indirect flights in recent weeks.
However, he did not say whether the regime had taken any steps to quarantine people who had come into contact with the merchant.
Bahram Sarmast, the governor of Qom, said last night that quarantining the city would not be an 'appropriate solution' despite the outbreak.