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Iran shuts down businesses, restricts travel as it faces the Middle East's worst COVID-19 outbreak

Iran shuts down businesses, restricts travel as it faces the Middle East's worst COVID-19 outbreak
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Iran took the drastic step of closing its businesses and restricting internal travel as Tehran battles against the region’s worst coronavirus outbreak.

Iranian officials had already issued guidance urging residents to wear masks and avoid nonessential travel, but with a confirmed case tally of more than 840,000 and a death toll of more than 430 over the past five days, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani indicated more stringent action was needed.

"If in the past people were told to follow the health protocols to ensure their own and relatives’ health, and to reduce the pressure on the medical staff, today, in addition to those recommendations, everyone must carefully follow the health principles to avoid economic pressure as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.

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“In the implementation of the comprehensive plan, all institutions must work together,” he added. “Everyone should help in this regard, especially those who are in quarantine.”

The new lockdown measures include closing most businesses, shops, malls and restaurants, and officials designated nearly 160 towns and cities as hot spots between which travel by private car is suspended.

The closures are currently slated to last for two weeks, though the government has the option of extending them should it deem it necessary. 

Rouhani noted that the restrictions would have a negative economic impact and that the government would look to provide a stimulus for 30 million people. But he expressed confidence that the measures would help curb the rapid spread of the virus.

“If we carefully implement the comprehensive plan with the requirements mentioned above, there will be no need for even a one-hour shutdown, and there is no doubt that by following the instructions and requirements, we can shorten the shutdown period and reduce the spread of the disease,” he said. 

However, Tehran’s health efforts could be hindered by a government shake-up in the midst of the alarming outbreak. Iranian newspapers said Saturday that Reza Malekzadeh, the deputy health minister in charge of research, and Ali Nobakht, an adviser to the health minister, resigned from their posts in response to remarks from Minister of Health Saeed Namaki that government research was unsuccessful, according to The Associated Press.