Iran vows to protect people from virus economic impact

Tehran (AFP) –


Iran vowed Monday to protect its people from the economic impact of the novel coronavirus as the official death toll in the Middle East's worst-hit country passed 4,500.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has struggled to contain the outbreak since it announced the country's first COVID-19 cases nearly two months ago.

It shut schools and universities, postponed major events and imposed a range of other restrictions, but it has stopped short of ordering lockdowns.

The government stressed the importance of striking a balance between the measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and getting the economy back on track.

The objective was to protect "the health and lives of the population from the coronavirus and its economic and social consequences", said government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

"Intelligent (social) distancing has the same objective... we must ensure the health of society while preserving the social and economic life" of the country, said Rabiei.

"The priority will always be given to health policies," he told a televised news conference.

Rouhani announced last week that "low-risk" businesses would be allowed to reopen in order to protect Iran's sanctions-hit economy.

The move took effect on Saturday outside Tehran and it is set to be implemented in the capital a week later.

- Uptick in traffic -

And while the restrictions remain in place in Tehran, there has been a noticable uptick in the flow of traffic in the city this working week.

On Monday, motorists drove past newly erected billboards paying tribute to doctors and nurses who have been on the front line of Iran's COVID-19 battle.

The president on Monday cautioned against neglecting the containment measures, however.

"The implementation of health protocols should continue in a strong and forceful manner," Rouhani said.

The health ministry on Monday announced another 111 coronavirus deaths and 1,617 new infections, bringing the official totals to 4,585 and 73,303, respectively.

But ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the number of coronavirus infections was stabilising and that 45,983 patients had recovered.

"The trend of relatively stable and decreasing new cases of contamination, which has been observed in recent days, has also continued over the past 24 hours," said Jahanpour.

"People must always continue to avoid unnecessary travel," he said, in order to stop the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

Iran announced its first COVID-19 cases on February 19 -- the deaths of two people in the Shiite holy city of Qom.

But there has been speculation abroad that the real toll from the disease in the Islamic republic could be higher.