Iran says the official who mocked coronavirus fears while coughing and sweating is now infected with coronavirus

The head of Iran's coronavirus government task force who urged the public not to freak out about the epidemic while coughing and sweating profusely has tested positive for the illness himself, authorities said Tuesday. New cases of COVID-19 originating in Iran are now rapidly popping up across the Middle East.

The coughing and heavily sweating Iraj Harirchi told journalists at a televised news conference in Tehran only one day ago that "the situation is almost stable in the country."

Coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people around the world, and has led to an estimated 2,700 deaths, mostly in China.

From the Associated Press:

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour confirmed Harirchi had the virus. Harirchi himself posted an online video saying he had it and that he had quarantined himself at his home. He promised that authorities would bring the virus under control.

"I wanted to tell you that, rest assured that with efforts of your servants at the Health Ministry … and backed by you people, the government and all elements of the establishment, we will be victorious in our combat against this virus within the next few weeks," Harirchi said.

On Monday, however, he had offered a far different assessment while repeatedly wiping his brow while standing beside government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

"Currently the situation is almost stable in the country and we could manage to minimize the problem," Harirchi said. He also said that "quarantines belong to the Stone Age."

The World Health Organization named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

Iran says official who played down virus fears is infected