Iran virus cases top 40,000

Tehran (AFP) –


The number of declared coronavirus infections in Iran topped 40,000 Monday, as the government warned the outbreak could run for several more months and cost over 10,000 lives.

With the tally climbing, President Hassan Rouhani stood accused of failing to take prompt action by some of his political opponents.

The row came as a report by Iran's anti-coronavirus committee said the country may struggle with the outbreak until at least early summer.

Parviz Karami, who published the study on Instagram, said 11,000 people would die in case of "medium government intervention", including measures already taken by Iran.

Potential fatalities could drop to 7,700 with "maximum" intervention, such as banning movement inside cities and imposing quarantines, he said.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said Monday another 117 people had died from the virus over the past 24 hours and 3,186 new cases had been confirmed, raising the total to more than 41,000.

The death toll had reached 2,757.

According to Jahanpour, 13,911 of those hospitalised have recovered, while 3,511 are in critical condition.

The Islamic republic is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic.

Iran has been scrambling to contain COVID-19's spread since it reported its first cases on February 19.

After weeks of refraining from imposing a lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided last Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.

There is no official lockdown in Iran's cities although the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay at home to contain the spread of the virus.

Rouhani's political opponents argued Monday that it was all too little, too late.

- 'Political war' -

"Coronavirus could have been more quickly contained" if measures such as "social distancing and limitations had been considered sooner", judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said, quoted by ISNA news agency.

Raisi, an ultra-conservative who ran against Rouhani in the 2017 presidential election, said that "time is of the essence".

The Iranian people had started "cooperating" only after authorities appeared to take the threat seriously, the official said.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a veteran conservative who also stood against Rouhani, charged the administration has mismanaged the crisis.

He accused the authorities of "ignoring reality" and "unjustified optimism".

Rouhani had "worsened the crisis, then asked for help and put the blame on others", Ghalibaf tweeted.

The criticism came as Rouhani called on opponents to assist the government's efforts.

"This is not a time for gathering followers. This is not a time for political war," the president said.

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei on Monday defended the measures adopted by the administration at a time that the country was under crippling US sanctions.

Washington withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018, targeting the crucial oil and banking sectors, among others.

The administration had taken the necessary steps "once notified" of the COVID-19 outbreak, Rabiei told a news conference.

Its approach had been to try to ensure "that both physical distance be kept and people's everyday lives not be disturbed", he said.

"These two make sense together in an economy under sanctions."

According to Rabiei, the administration has endorsed a $6-billion rescue package to fend off the damage from the outbreak.

It included low-interest loans to businesses to prevent a spike in unemployment and cash handouts to impoverished Iranians.

Some of Iran's top hospitals are experimenting with stem cells to "balance immune system response" in infected patients and find a treatment, according to ISNA.

Iran also said Monday it has started mass production of "highly accurate" coronavirus testing kits that could produce results within 3 hours.