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Iranian women wear protective masks to prevent contracting coronavirus as they walk in the street in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 25, 2020.

Iranians skeptical their government can handle the coronavirus outbreak

Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus increased to 16 on Tuesday — more than in any other country outside of China.

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Iranian women wear protective masks to prevent contracting coronavirus as they walk in the street in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 25, 2020.

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WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via Reuters 

You know things are bad when the person in charge of containing the coronavirus in Iran has been infected himself. On Tuesday, the deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, posted a video of himself online from the quarantine.

“The coronavirus is democratic,” he said jokingly. “It affects anybody and everybody.”

He promised Iranians the country will overcome these tough times.

Related: New coronavirus cases rise in Italy, Korea and Iran but fall in China

But some Iranians are skeptical about the way their leaders have been dealing with the outbreak so far. Until last week, Iranian officials were telling the public that the coronavirus had not reached Iran. They sent more than 50,000 respiratory masks to China, where the virus was first identified in late 2019. In Iran, that changed last week when Iranian officials admitted a handful of people had died from COVID-19, the disease the virus causes. The epicenter was Qom, a holy city near Tehran.

Since then, Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has increased to 16 on Tuesday — more than in any other country outside of China. 

Maryam, a 25-year-old medical student who asked that her full name not be used because she fears government retaliation, says one of the hospitals she works in scrambled to set up a quarantine section. Several patients there are critically ill, and at least one person has died.

She says the country was not prepared for this kind of outbreak. Nationwide, there’s a shortage of test kits — only a few hospitals across the country have them. And she thinks she might have been infected, too. She’s starting to show symptoms, but she can’t get tested because there aren’t enough kits.

Related: Controlling the spread of coronavirus is key to stopping a 'true pandemic,' NIH head says

A team from the World Health Organization recently arrived in Iran to assist the government in its response to the outbreak.

Iranian social media is now full of tips and information about how people can take care of themselves and what to do if they get sick.

Meanwhile, the Persian New Year is about a month away. The challenge will be to get the coronavirus under control before then — when many Iranians travel and visit family.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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