The new coronavirus has killed two elderly Iranian citizens, according to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.

IRNA quoted an adviser to the country’s health minister as saying both of the victims had been carrying the coronavirus and were located in Qom, about 140 kilometres (86 miles) south of the capital Tehran.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian authorities had confirmed two cases of the new virus, the first in the country.

Officials later said the two patients had died.

People wearing face masks in a business district in Hong Kong
People wear face masks in a business district in Hong Kong (Kin Cheung/AP)

IRNA quoted Kiyanoush Jahanpour, an official in the country’s health ministry, as saying that “since last two days, some suspected cases of the new coronavirus were found”.

The virus causes the illness that the World Health Organisation recently named Covid-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

The new virus emerged in China in December.

Since then, more than 70,000 people have been infected globally, with more than 2,000 deaths being reported, mostly in China.

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold.

It causes cold and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath.

It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

A volunteer wearing a face mask stands at a neighbourhood checkpoint in Beijing, China
A volunteer wearing a face mask stands at a neighbourhood checkpoint in Beijing, China (Sam McNeil/AP)

First detected in China, the virus is believed to have originated in a type of wild animal sold at a Chinese market to be consumed as food.

Iran has applied safety measures on arrival flights at its airports to control a possible spread of the virus.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, nine cases have been confirmed in the United Arab Emirates, seven of them Chinese nationals, one Indian and one Filipino, while Egypt’s Health Ministry confirmed its first case last Friday.

Egypt’s Health Ministry only identified its sole case as a foreigner who is carrying the virus but not showing any serious symptoms.

The ministry said the person was in hospital and in isolation.

It did not specify the person’s nationality or what port of entry he or she arrived at in Egypt.

The case in Egypt was also the first on the African continent.

Experts and African leaders have expressed concern that should the virus spread there, it might wreak havoc among less developed countries with fewer health resources.