Top Iranian cleric dies from coronavirus

Member of Iran's Assembly of Experts becomes latest top official to die from COVID-19.

Elad Benari ,

Iran coronavirus
Iran coronavirus

A top Iranian cleric on Monday became the latest senior Iranian official to succumb to the novel coronavirus, as the Islamic Republic reported yet another record high single-day death toll.

The disease has now killed at least 12 Iranian politicians and officials, both sitting and former, and infected 13 more who have either been quarantined or are being treated, AFP reported.

The latest was Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani, a member of the Assembly of Experts -- an 88-strong body of clerics that appoints and monitors the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The ayatollah, who was 78, died two days after testing positive for the disease and being hospitalized, state news agency IRNA reported.

The novel coronavirus also claimed the life of prominent economist and political activist Fariborz Rais-Dana on Monday, according to AFP.

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.

Other high-profile deaths in Iran from the coronavirus include a member of the council advising the Ayatollah, a former ambassador, a newly-elected member of parliament, an adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and a re-elected member of parliament.

Last week, it was reported that Iran’s senior Vice President, Eshaq Jahangiri, and two other Cabinet members have contracted the new coronavirus.

A top adviser to Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayati, was also reported to have been infected with the virus.

Meanwhile on Monday, Iran’s health ministry reported 1,053 confirmed new cases of infection in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 14,991.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19 after it emerged in the city of Qom last month.

Since then, it has shut schools, postponed events and discouraged travel ahead of Nowrouz, the country's New Year holidays.

While Iran has cancelled the main weekly Friday prayers, closed parliament and postponed the second round of legislative elections it has yet to impose a lockdown.

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

President Hassan Rouhani on Monday reiterated his call for people to refrain from travelling.

Speaking in a videoconference with Iran's anti-coronavirus headquarters in Tehran, he expressed hopes that the outbreak would soon be brought under control.

"God willing, this year-end will go down in history... as days of victory over this dangerous virus," he said, according to AFP.