President Hassan Rouhani announced on Sunday that an intercity travel ban within each province, imposed to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, has been lifted.
Speaking at a meeting of the National Headquarters for Managing and Fighting the Coronavirus, Rouhani added that restrictions on travel between provinces in place since last month would be lifted on April 20.
But he repeated calls on Iranians to limit movements outside to “necessary” tasks and remain vigilant, as it remains difficult to “comment on the future” of Iran’s battle with the virus.
Rouhani said religious gatherings would probably be canceled during the fasting month of Ramadan due to the outbreak, the headquarters would decide on the issue in its upcoming meeting.
“During the holy month of Ramadan, people usually hold various events at mosques … reciting the Qur’an and praying. The final decision on this issue will be made in the next meeting,” he said.
Ramadan will begin in late this month and last through most of May, with Muslims fasting from dawn until dusk.
Europe, US outdone
Rouhani said also said Iran has been fighting US sanctions and the new coronavirus simultaneously but has handled the issue better than Europe and the United States.
“We had a sanctions virus, to which the coronavirus was added, but you did not have the sanctions virus. You have one virus while we have two viruses,” he said, addressing Europe and the United States.
“We did better than you in the fight against the coronavirus,” Rouhani added.
The president said in fighting the virus, the Iranian people resisted well, and helped each other.
“This is an honor for all, for all our loved ones and people. Yes, our situation is relatively good in the fight against the disease and the dangerous virus, and our situation is better in comparison with some countries.”
Iran announced its first coronavirus cases on February 19. US sanctions have hampered the virus fight in Iran.
Death toll jumps
Iran’s Health Ministry on Sunday announced 117 new deaths from the respiratory illness, bringing the overall official toll to 4,474, even as it eased some restrictions.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour also told a news conference that 1,657 new infections had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 71,686.
Iran has carried out 263,388 tests for the virus so far, he added.
Of those confirmed to be infected with Covid-19 and admitted to hospitals, 43,894 have recovered and been discharged, while 3,930 are in a critical condition.
Ten thousand graves have been dug in a new section of the sprawling Behesht-e Zahra cemetery south of Tehran to deal with coronavirus deaths, the official IRNA news agency reported on Sunday.
Iran has started a gradual reopening of its economy, arguing the sanctions-hit cannot stay in lockdown.
Government offices outside Iran’s capital, Tehran, reopened Saturday with a third of all employees working from home, state media reported. Women who have young children were given priority in deciding who works remotely. Businesses outside the capital were also allowed to reopen Saturday, the first day of the work week.
Businesses in Tehran will be allowed to reopen next Saturday, provided they register with authorities and follow guidelines on social distancing set out by the Health Ministry. Government offices in the capital will reopen with two-thirds of employees coming in.
Schools and universities are still shut across the country, as are cinemas, sports stadiums and revered Shia Muslim shrines.
Iran’s economy has contracted by 4.8 and 9.5 percent in the past two years, even before the epidemic, according to the International Monetary Fund.
US sanctions reimposed in 2018 have targeted Iran’s crucial oil sector, and with global prices plummeting, the country is now earning even less.
Top officials have argued that coupled with dropping tax revenues, Iran cannot afford to shut down the economy.
“We want to continue economic activities as much as possible while fighting coronavirus at the same time,” Rouhani said this week.
A “gradual” return of economic activity would also be permitted from April 18 in Tehran.
Rouhani said Saturday that “activities restarting does not mean ignoring health protocols” and called on Iranians to remain vigilant.
Iran points to “smart social distancing”, including businesses having to register online with the Health Ministry and observe necessary protocols to be allowed to reopen.
AFP, AP, Reuters and Press TV contributed to this story.
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