Iran reports largest spike in coronavirus as 147 more die
Tehran, Mar 18 : Iran reported its single biggest jump in deaths from the new coronavirus on Wednesday as another 147 people died, raising the country’s overall death toll to 1,135.
The nearly 15 per cent spike in deaths amid a total of 17,361 confirmed cases in Iran marks the biggest 24-hour rise in fatalities since officials first acknowledged cases of the virus in Iran in mid-February.
Still, even as the number of cases continues to grow each day, food markets were still packed with shoppers on Wednesday and highways were crowded with traffic as families traveled between cities ahead of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on Friday.
Iran’s deputy health minister, Alireza Raisi, urged the public to avoid travel and crowded places. In a statement on state TV, Raisi told Iranians the coming period represented two “golden weeks” to try curb the virus from spreading further.
He criticized people for not adhering to the warnings to stay home, saying the virus is very serious. “This is not a good situation at all,” he said.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday defended his government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in the face of of widespread criticism that officials acted too slowly and may have even covered up initial cases before infections rapidly spread across the country.
In a speech to his Cabinet, Rouhani said the government was straightforward” with the nation, saying it announced the outbreak as soon as it learned about it on Feb. 19.
“We spoke to people in a honest way. We had no delay, he added.
The government has come under heavy criticism for what has been seen as a slow and inadequate response. For weeks, government officials implored clerics to shut down crowded holy shrines to stymie the spread of the virus. The government finally closed the shrines this week.
“It was difficult of course to shut down mosques and holy sites, but we did it. It was a religious duty to do it, Rouhani said.
Iran also announced it would close mosques for communal Friday prayers for a third consecutive week. Other Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have also cancelled Friday prayers in mosques.