Coronavirus: Pompeo urges Iran to ‘tell the truth’ about outbreak

At least 53 people in US have been infected with Covid-19

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news briefing at the State Department February 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. Secretary Pompeo discussed various topics including the coronavirus outbreak and the peace talks in Afghanistan.   Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Iran of concealing its number of coronavirus cases and urged it to come clean in addressing the challenge.

“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating that the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Mr Pompeo said.

“All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and co-operate with international aid organisations.”

“As of yesterday afternoon, Iran was second only to China in coronavirus deaths."

Iran's deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi and Iranian member of Parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.

While the Iranian government has reported 95 cases and 15 deaths, the number is believed to be higher.

Mr Pompeo also lamented a lack of transparency from China in its handling of the outbreak.

“Had China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge,” he said.

Mr Pompeo criticised Beijing for expelling US journalists, saying that it “exposes once again the government's issue that led to Sars and now the coronavirus, namely censorship. It can have deadly consequences”.

Virus continues to spread in the Middle East

Most of the coronavirus cases reported elsewhere in the Middle East have been sourced to Iran.

Bahrain’s Health Ministry identified six more cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number in the kingdom to 23.

Oman also reported two more cases originating in Iran, bringing the total to four, while Iraq now has five cases.

Kuwait, which now has 10 confirmed cases, has suspended all flights to and from South Korea, Thailand, Iran, Italy and Iraq.

The UAE also halted all flights to and from Iran after 11 cases were confirmed in the country.

Lebanon, which has one confirmed case of the virus, restricted flights for pilgrims going to or returning from Iran, Iraq and other areas.

Israel has also reported two cases.

In the US, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Tuesday that further spreading of the virus was likely.

“It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen in this country any more but a question of when this will happen,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases.

But US President Donald Trump reassured Americans on Monday that the situation was “under control”.

The US has so far reported at least 53 cases of the virus, including 19 new cases diagnosed at the weekend.

The White House this week sent Congress an urgent budget request for $2.5 billion (Dh9.2bn) to address the outbreak.

More than 80,000 people have been reported as infected with Covid-19 in 34 countries around the globe.

The virus has resulted in at least 2,700 deaths, the World Health Organisation said.