Iran reports its largest coronavirus death toll within 24-hour period

In this file photo, health workers spray disinfectant outside the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, Iran on February 27, 2020.
In this file photo, health workers spray disinfectant outside the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, Iran on February 27, 2020. © WANA News Agency via Reuters

Iran's health ministry on Sunday reported 49 new deaths from the COVID-19 disease, the highest toll within 24 hours since the start of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.


"At least 194 of our compatriots who fell sick with the COVID-19 illness have passed away," Iranian health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

The outbreak of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in Iran is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the virus originated late last year.

Jahanpour added that 743 new infections were also confirmed within the past 24 hours, bringing the number of cases to 6,566 spread across all of Iran's 31 provinces.

With 1,805 infections, the capital Tehran remains part of the province with the most cases, the spokesman added.

Braced for a somber Nowruz

Reporting from Tehran, FRANCE 24’s Reza Sayah said Iranians have been coping as best they can as the country, already grappling with the effects of tough US sanctions, faces yet another crisis. “The overwhelming majority of people we’re seeing here in Iran are dealing with this outbreak in a civil and cooperative way. Sure they’re concerned, but they’re helping one and another, they’re taking precautionary measures, they’re not going out to social gatherings, they’re doing the best they can in a civil manner,” said Sayaf.

Iran has imposed travel restrictions on 15 provinces, said Sayah. Schools and universities have been closed until the end of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrations in early April.

“In less than two weeks, it’s Nowruz, the Persian New Year, perhaps the biggest and most popular national holiday when Iranians get together and socialise with family and friends,” said Sayaf. “That’s not going to happen the way it usually does, and that’s another hit to this country that has seen many crises over the past couple of years.”

Outside Tehran, the situation in the provinces continued to deteriorate, with Jahanpour saying 685 cases were detected in and around Qom, the holy Shiite city south of Tehran where the country's first cases were reported.

He said the number of cases was also "rising quickly" in Isfahan, a popular tourist destination, where there were now 564 people sick with the virus.

Iran Air suspends flights to Europe

Iran Air announced on Sunday the suspension of all its flights to Europe until further notice.

The statement issued by the company made no mention of the novel coronavirus epidemic as a reason for the measure, citing only "restrictions" imposed by European authorities for "unknown reasons".

According to several specialised sites, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) banned on February 3 Iran Air aircraft from European airspace, namely an Airbus A321-200 and two Airbus A330-200 that had not undergone necessary upgrades for authorisation to fly in Europe.

Sweden on March 2 announced it was temporarily suspending the flight permits of Iran Air on the advice of health officials who said Tehran was "not in control" of the novel coronavirus outbreak on its soil.

The Iranian carrier operates flights to multiple European destinations including Paris, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Vienna and Rome.

Saudi Arabia locks down predominantly Shiite eastern province

Across the Persian Gulf, Iran’s archfoe Saudi Arabia imposed a temporary lockdown on its eastern Qatif province, home to the kingdom’s marginalised Shiite population, to prevent the spread of the virus.

Saudi authorities on Sunday said 11 coronavirus cases had been recorded in the eastern province. "Given that all 11 recorded positive cases of the new coronavirus are from Qatif ... it has been decided ... to temporarily suspend entry and exit from Qatif," the Saudi interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The move risks stirring resentment in Qatif, which has been a flashpoint between the Sunni-dominated Saudi government and minority Shiites in the country who have complained of discrimination, charges the government denies.

Saudi authorities have previously said those infected have either been to Iran or interacted with people who visited the Islamic Republic, home to major Shiite holy sites.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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