News agency: Iran VP, 2 Cabinet members have new virus

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In this Tuesday, March, 10, 2020 photo, paramedics test samples taken from patients suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, at a laboratory in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran. For most people, the new coronavirus 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. (Amin Nazari/ISNA via AP)

TEHRAN – Iran's senior vice president and two other Cabinet members have contracted the new coronavirus, a semiofficial news agency reported Wednesday as the death toll in the Islamic Republic from the outbreak rose by 62 to 354.

The report by the Fars news agency, believed to be close to Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, comes as President Hassan Rouhani took control of the country's much-criticized response to the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. Authorities announced that there were some 9,000 confirmed cases of the virus across Iran.

The Fars story also comes amid days of speculation about the health of Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. Jahangiri has not been seen in pictures of recent top-level meetings, raising concerns about him.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Kuwait announced a two-week shutdown of the country while confirmed cases in Qatar jumped from 24 to 262.

For most people, the new coronavirus 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. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

There was no immediate report on state media about the Iranian officials being ill and no other media outlet in Iran immediately carried the report. Fars published it in a picture list of names in Farsi, with Jahangiri's name at the top, saying he was in quarantine and improving, without elaborating.

Fars said the others sick are Ali Asghar Mounesan, minister of cultural heritage, handcrafts and tourism, and Reza Rahmani, minister of industry, mines and business.

The report comes at a sensitive time for Rouhani, who faced criticism for not being out front on the response to the virus. He's been seen at government meetings where members sit meters apart from each other, likely to stop the potential spread of the virus. He also wore latex gloves while planting a tree at a recent event.