TEHRAN: Iran said Tuesday 141 more people have died from the novel coronavirus, raising the official toll in one of the world’s worst-affected countries to 2,898.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 3,111 new infections have been confirmed over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 44,606.
He said 3,703 of those hospitalized are in a critical condition and 14,656 have recovered.
Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it reported its first cases on Feb. 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 within Iran’s cities, although the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay at home to contain the spread of the virus.
President Hassan Rouhani renewed those warnings on Tuesday as the climax of the two-week Persian New Year holiday nears.
He said authorities would close parks across the country on Wednesday, in a move that effectively blocks the family picnics that traditionally mark the 13th day of holiday.
Rouhani called on people to “leave this tradition for some other time” and said violators would be fined.
The authorities have also stopped the print editions of all Iranian media until at least April 8, calling on them to publish online instead, state news agency IRNA reported.
“Publishing newspapers and other print media requires the activities of groups ranging from reporters to the printing and distribution industry and this could potentially increase the disease’s spread,” said a statement from Iran’s anti-coronavirus committee.
The outbreak has not spared Iranian lawmakers or other officials.
A parliament spokesman told the Tasnim news agency Tuesday that at least 23 of the legislature’s 290 members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Separately, the Trump administration on Monday renewed several waivers on US sanctions against Iran, allowing Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities without drawing American penalties.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on the waiver extensions but couched the decision as one that continues restrictions on Iran’s atomic work. “Iran’s continued expansion of nuclear activities is unacceptable. The regime’s nuclear extortion is among the greatest threats to international peace and security,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
Current and former officials familiar with the matter said Pompeo had opposed extending the waivers, which are among the few remaining components of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that the administration has not canceled.
However, the officials said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had prevailed in an internal debate on the subject last week by arguing that the coronavirus pandemic made eliminating the waivers unpalatable at a time when the administration is being criticized for refusing to ease sanctions to deal with
Last week, the administration slapped new sanctions on 20 Iranian people and companies for supporting Shia militia in Iraq held responsible for attacks on bases where US forces are located. At the same time, however, it extended another sanctions waiver to allow energy-starved Iraq to keep importing Iranian power.
President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and has steadily reimposed US sanctions on Iran that had been eased or lifted under its terms.
The so-called “civilian-nuclear cooperation” waivers allow foreign companies to do work at some of Iran’s declared nuclear sites without becoming subject to US sanctions.
Deal supporters say the waivers give international experts a valuable window into Iran’s atomic program that might otherwise not exist. They also say some of the work, particularly at the Tehran reactor on nuclear isotopes that can be used in medicine, is humanitarian in nature.
But Iran hawks in Congress have been pressing Pompeo to eliminate all the waivers, saying they should be revoked because they give Iran access to technology that could be used for weapons.