On Monday, the deputy health minister leading Iran's counter-coronavirus task force rejected claims that the government was downplaying the scale of the country's outbreak. On Tuesday, authorities confirmed that the minister, Iraj Harirchi, had tested positive for the virus. The AP reports that he "had been sweating and looked uncomfortable" when he briefed journalists in Tehran on the outbreak Monday. Officials in Iran say at least 12 people have died from the virus. In other developments:
- Virus hits two more countries in Europe. Croatia and Austria reported their first COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the Guardian reports. The Austrian infections were in the Tyrol region, just across the border from Italy, where the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe has killed at least seven people.
- Iraq wants to seal border. Iraqi lawmakers called for the border with Iran to be sealed Tuesday after the number of infections in the country rose to five, including a family of four that had recently returned from Iran. Cleric Moktada al-Sadr told his followers to suspend anti-government protests, the New York Times reports. "I had called for million man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else," he said.
- Outbreak has "peaked" in China. The World Health Organization believes the outbreak may have "peaked and plateaued" in China, which reported another 71 deaths Tuesday, reports RTHK. Some provinces have reported no new cases for several days. The outbreak has killed at least 2,663 people in China, the vast majority of them in Hubei province.
- Spanish hotel locked down. A hotel in Tenerife in the Canary Islands was locked down Tuesday after a guest tested positive for the virus, the BBC reports. The guest—a doctor from Italy—has been hospitalized and a police cordon has been placed around the hotel, which has around 1,000 guests.
- Mass testing in South Korea. In South Korea, which is experiencing the most serious outbreak of anywhere outside mainland China, authorities plan to test more than 200,000 members of a religious group linked to a surge in cases, reports Reuters. The country has now reported 10 deaths and almost 1,000 infections.
- Travel restrictions. Numerous countries are bringing in travel restrictions to try to halt the outbreak, including Bahrain, which has halted flights to Dubai, the AP reports. French health minister Olivier Veran said the country would not cancel mass gatherings or close its border with Italy. "We don’t close borders because we would not be able to, we don’t do it because it would be meaningless,” he said. "Should we ban gatherings? Should we stop the Fashion Week? Should we suspend matches? Should we close universities? The answer is no."
(The WHO isn't ready to call the outbreak a pandemic