Iran reports more than 100 new virus deaths as fears mount

A trader walks at the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Regional stock markets were down, reflecting investor concerns and nerves felt globally as oil prices plunge and tourism revenue is eroded by the virus. The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially designated the outbreak a "pandemic." (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
A trader walks at the Dubai Financial Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, March 12, 2020. Regional stock markets were down, reflecting investor concerns and nerves felt globally as oil prices plunge and tourism revenue is eroded by the virus. The World Health Organization on Wednesday officially designated the outbreak a "pandemic." (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DUBAI – The official leading Iran's response to the new coronavirus acknowledged Sunday that the pandemic could overwhelm health facilities in his country, which is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East while under heavy U.S. sanctions.

Elsewhere in the region, Lebanon ordered residents not to leave their homes except for urgent necessities and even closed down Beirut's famous Mediterranean boardwalk. Muslim authorities indefinitely closed the Al-Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, with prayers continuing to be held on the sprawling esplanade outside.

Iran's Health Ministry on Sunday reported another 113 deaths, the biggest single-day jump in fatalities. That brings the country's total death toll to 724, with nearly 14,000 confirmed cases, one of the worst outbreaks outside China.

“If the trend continues, there will not be enough capacity,” Ali Reza Zali, who is leading the campaign against the outbreak, was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Iran is believed to have around 110,000 hospital beds, including 30,000 in the capital, Tehran. Authorities have pledged to set up mobile clinics as needed.

Zali acknowledged that “many” who died from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus were otherwise healthy, a rare admission by local authorities that the virus does not only prey on the sick and elderly.

Health Ministry figures show that while 55% of fatalities were in their 60s, some 15% were younger than 40.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Most people recover in a matter of weeks.