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Iran says coronavirus kills member of top clerical body

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FILES) In this file photo taken on May 31, 2009, Iranian pilgrims visit the Shiite Muslim shrine of Imam Reza in the holy city of Mashhad, 900 kilometres northeast of Tehran. The tomb of Imam Reza in Iran’s holy Shiite city of Mashhad has been closed to pilgrims until further notice in line with measures to stop the new coronavirus, a spokesman said on March 15, 2020. “Currently, the porches of the mausoleum and generally all the covered spaces of the holy shrine are closed,” the spokesman for the shrine told AFP. Atta KENARE / AFP

Iran’s coronavirus outbreak Monday killed a member of the clerical body that appoints the supreme leader, state media said, taking the death toll among serving and ex-officials to at least 12.

Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani, who was 78, died two days after testing positive for the COVID-19 disease and being hospitalised, state news agency IRNA reported.

The official represented Tehran in the Assembly of Experts, an 88-strong body of clerics that appoints and monitors Iran’s supreme leader.

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At least 12 Iranian politicians and officials, both sitting and former, have now died of the illness, and 13 more have been infected and are either in quarantine or being treated.

The virus also killed a prominent economist and political activist on Monday, according to the semi-official news agency ISNA.

Fariborz Rais-Dana, 71, succumbed to the illness after being hospitalised for six days, ISNA reported.

A prolific writer with a PhD from the London School of Economics, he had spent time in prison after being convicted of spreading propaganda against the system.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus which so far has infected nearly 14,000 people and killed over 720, according to official figures.

The number of coronavirus deaths and infections have been on the rise ever since the first two fatalities were announced on February 19.

According to the health ministry, the rising trend is due to the increasing number of tests being carried out.

It says many patients started showing symptoms days after they were infected.

Official tolls, which are given every 24 hours, have usually lagged behind reports by local media and have sometimes been contradicted by provincial authorities.

Iran is yet to impose a lockdown but it has temporarily closed parliament, barred pilgrims from gathering at a holy tomb and postponed the second round of legislative elections.

Officials have repeatedly urged citizens to stick to guidelines and stay at home to stop the coronavirus from spreading.

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