Iran president foresees virus relief, even as death toll tops 1,500

Tehran (AFP) –


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday said authorities' efforts to combat the COVID-19 epidemic would produce significant results within 15 days, as the country's official death toll from the virus surpassed 1,500.

There were 123 more fatalities -- taking the country's death toll to 1,556 -- and 966 more cases of the novel coronavirus reported in Iran over the past 24 hours, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced in a televised address.

He added that 20,610 people were now known to have been infected so far in the Islamic republic.

Despite the increasing toll, Rouhani said the government's response to the virus is producing "a lot of impact", indicating "the situation will change automatically within 10 to 15 days" if "everyone observes the directives", according to a statement by the presidency.

The Islamic republic is among the three countries hardest hit by the virus, with an official death toll behind only Italy and China. In contrast with these countries, Iran has not enforced isolation measures.

"The principle is that, as much as possible, people do not leave their homes," Rouhani said. He also urged "shopping centres where large numbers of people gather" to close.

The country's largest shopping centre, Iran Mall, located in the west of the capital Tehran, has shuttered and a section is being converted into a makeshift health centre able to accomodate up to 3,000 patients, an AFP journalist reported on Saturday.

The mortality rate from coronavirus in Iran is around 7.5 percent and the rate of recovery 37 percent, according to the figures provided by Jahanpour.

A total of 7,635 people have recovered from the disease across the country, he said.

All 31 of Iran's provinces have reported cases, with the northeastern province of Semnan reporting the largest number of infections per capita.

For weeks ahead of the Persian New Year holidays, which began on Friday and usually see large numbers of Iranians take to the roads for tourism or to visit relatives, authorities have asked people to avoid all travel.

But the pleas have been ignored by many.

The Iranian Red Crescent said on Friday that around three million people have left the 13 most virus-affected provinces by road since March 17, but Rouhani said that overall travel had declined sharply.

Jahanpour said there was "a minority who did not follow the guidelines", warning that provinces popular with tourists would not welcome visitors for the Nowruz holiday.

Some provinces have ordered hotels and other accommodation to close.