Fifty people have died from coronavirus in the Iranian city of Qom, the country’s semi-official ILNA news agency reported on Monday.
That came hours after wildly divergent figures were released by Iran's state TV, which reported the death toll was only 12, with 47 people infected.
An official from Qom, Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, was quoted by ILNA as saying more than 250 people were in quarantine in the city, which is a popular place of religious study for Shiites from across Iran and other countries.
He said the 50 deaths dated as far back as February 13. But the first officially reported cases of the virus and its first deaths in Iran were released on February 19.
The Iranian government has denied attempting to cover up the full extent of the outbreak. “I categorically deny this information,” the country's health minister Iraj Harirchi said in a news conference broadcast live on state television. “This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem,” he added.
Authorities in Iran have closed schools across much of the country for a second day as neighbouring countries reported infections from travellers from Iran, prompting several to shut their borders to Iranians.
If confirmed, the number of deaths from the virus compared to confirmed infections is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, countries where the outbreak is far more widespread.