Iran coronavirus death toll jumps 149 to 1,433: Health ministry

Iran coronavirus death toll jumps 149 to 1,433: Health ministry

An Iranian medic treats a patient infected with the COVID-19 virus at a hospital in Tehran in March
An Iranian medic treats a patient infected with the COVID-19 virus at a hospital in Tehran in Mar 2020. (Photo: AFP/Koosha Mahshid Falahi)

TEHRAN: Iran's death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak rose by 149 to 1,433 on Friday (Mar 20), a health ministry official tweeted, adding that that total number of confirmed infections had increased by 1,237 to 19,644.

Iran is one of the countries outside China most affected by the pandemic.

Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi said 1,237 more cases were confirmed over the past 24 hours and 19,644 people are now known to have been infected in Iran, one of the world's worst-hit countries.

The latest figures come as Iranians celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year which ushers in a two-week holiday during which Iran's roads are normally filled with people visiting family.

READ: Khamenei says US sanctions forced Iran to become 'self-sufficient'

The authorities had urged the public to avoid family visits or days out this year to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

But footage aired by state television showed hundreds of vehicles pouring out of Tehran on Thursday evening.

Remote sensors installed at tollbooths checked the body temperatures of motorists and their passengers, but there was no mass stay-home as called for by the authorities.

Raisi defended Iran's reluctance to resort to the sort of "coercive powers" granted to police in France and Italy to force people off the streets.

He said checkpoints had been set up around major cities to test suspected cases and that those found positive were being sent home to self-quarantine.

That contrasted with earlier guidance from the government which had said that anyone suspected of having COVID-19 would be quarantined.

READ: Iran temporarily frees 85,000 from jail, including political prisoners, amid coronavirus

In holiday messages broadcast on Friday, both supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani promised that Iran would overcome the outbreak.

Khamenei paid tribute to the sacrifices of the country's doctors and nurses in tackling the coronavirus, and prayed that the coming 12 months would see "great victories" after a "turbulent" year that saw open hostilities between Tehran and Washington.

"These acts of sacrifice were made by medical groups, physicians, nurses, assistants, managers and the staff working in hospitals," said Khamenei, who looked healthy despite rumors that he had been infected with the new coronavirus.  

In his message to Iranians, broadcast shortly after the supreme leader's, Rouhani trumpeted Iran's success in withstanding US sanctions on the country's vital oil sector.

"Faced with the most severe sanctions in history imposed by the international terrorists on the oil industry ... our people have written a heroic new page by keeping the wheels of the economy turning without oil," he said.

"We have not been defeated ... We have emerged victorious from this test. Soon we will overcome the COVID-19 outbreak too," the president pledged.

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Source: Reuters/AFP/lk