Why is Iran’s reported mortality rate for coronavirus higher than in other countries?

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Iran’s reported mortality rate for the illness — about 14 percent — surpasses the rate for other countries by a dramatic margin.

WASHINGTON — Iran has the highest reported number of deaths from the coronavirus outside China, raising questions about how the government is handling the public health crisis and whether the often secretive regime has been fully transparent about the extent of the outbreak.

Iran’s health ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that 19 Iranians have died out of a total of 139 positive cases.

Apart from China, where it was first detected in December, Iran has recorded the most deaths from the new form of coronavirus. There have been 2,715 deaths in China, out of a total of more than 78,000 confirmed cases.

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But Iran’s reported mortality rate — about 14 percent — surpasses the rate for other countries by a dramatic margin. At the center of the outbreak in Hubei province in China, the reported mortality rate is estimated at 2 percent. In South Korea, 11 patients have died out of 1,146 cases, for a reported mortality rate of slightly less than 1 percent. A U.S. soldier is among those infected in South Korea.

Amid a shortage of surgical masks and hand sanitizer in shops, public health experts say Iran could become the hub of a major outbreak across the Middle East, especially given its porous borders with unstable countries at war or in turmoil.

Iranian officials reported the first case of virus in the religious city of Qom last week, and coronavirus has spread to at least seven other provinces. Other countries in the region, including Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and Afghanistan, reported their first cases this week and said the patients had recently visited Iran.

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