Coronavirus fatalities spike 15% in a day in Iran, with toll now at 1,135 dead
TEHRAN — Iran on Wednesday reported its single biggest jump in fatalities from the coronavirus as another 147 people died, raising the country's overall death 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 curb the virus.
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 finally closed them 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 said 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 done so as well.
The coronavirus has infected more than 200,000 people globally and killed more than 8,000. For most people, it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority recover.
World Health Organization director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, said the many travel restrictions imposed by various countries are hurting efforts to combat the virus by delaying both the deployment of health experts and the delivery of urgently needed medical supplies.
The Israeli Health Ministry said 90 more people had tested positive, bringing the country's total of infections to 427. Authorities have put the country in near-shutdown mode, ordering tens of thousands of people into home quarantine, turning unused hotels into hospitals and setting up drive-through testing centers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of catastrophic consequences if instructions aren't followed. “This is a huge crisis. We are only at the start of the campaign," he said in an address Tuesday evening.
Most controversially, the Israeli government has instructed the shadowy Shin Bet internal security service to deploy phone surveillance technology to curb the spread of the virus in Israel by tracking movements of those infected.
In Iraq, a week-long curfew began in Baghdad, allowing pedestrians on the streets only to buy necessary food and medicine. Armed police patrolled the city and set up roadblocks.
Still, some defied the curfew to observe the annual Shiite Muslim commemoration of the death of Imam Mousa al-Kazim. Thousands typically walk to his shrine in the Khadimiya area outside of Baghdad. Several men, women and children moved solemnly down Baghdad’s Saadoun Street, determined to complete the journey. Police did not try to stop them.