Deaths spike in Iran, with total at 1,135
Still, crowds surge before celebration of new year holiday
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran on Wednesday reported its single biggest jump in fatalities from the coronavirus as another 147 people died, raising the country’s overall toll to 1,135.
The nearly 15% spike in deaths — amid a total of 17,361 confirmed cases in Iran — marks the biggest 24-hour rise in fatalities since Iranian officials first acknowledged infections of the virus in mid-February.
Even as the number of cases grows, food markets were still packed with shoppers and highways were crowded as families traveled ahead of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on Friday.
Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi urged the public to avoid travel and crowds, telling Iranians the days ahead represented two “golden weeks” to try slow the viral outbreak.
He criticized people for not adhering to the warnings to stay home. “This is not a good situation at all,” he said.
President Hassan Rouhani defended his government’s response to the outbreak in the face of widespread criticism that Iran acted too slowly and might even have covered up initial cases. He told his Cabinet the government was being straightforward, saying it announced the outbreak as soon as it learned about it Feb. 19.
“We spoke to people in an honest way. We had no delay,” he added.
For weeks, officials implored clerics to shut down crowded Shiite shrines to halt the spread of the virus. The government was only able to close them this week.
Iran also said it would close mosques for communal Friday prayers for a third consecutive week. Other Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia,
Masked ministers attended a Cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, on Wednesday. One health official criticized the public for not adhering to the warnings to stay home.