Iranians traveling less in face of virus threat but more restrictions coming, says president

Iranians traveling less in face of virus threat but more restrictions coming, says president

DUBAI — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday congratulated his citizens for dramatically cutting their travel during the Persian New Year holiday season but said that new restrictions would soon have to be imposed.

Iran is fighting the worst outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the Middle East, with more than 27,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths as of Wednesday. The government has been criticized for not moving quickly enough to shut down the country and halt access to crowded religious sites.

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Rouhani noted that attendance at the revered Imam Reza shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad — a pilgrimage destination — had dropped by 78 percent, with hotels and visiting centers empty.

“There was decline in the number of train trips and flights, 80 percent down,” he said in the televised cabinet meeting. “So these all show people have been cooperative.”

He added, however, that new restrictions on movement would be announced Thursday, possibly including closing public parks and banning all travel — measures that have been taken in other countries facing less severe outbreaks.

Rouhani said on Tuesday that the outbreak in Iran was slowly coming under control, with a decline in the growth of cases, as well as deaths. There have been doubts abroad, however, about the accuracy of the government figures on the outbreak.

Iran has said U.S. sanctions harm its ability to combat the disease — accusations Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denied, countering instead that Iranian mismanagement and corruption are to blame.

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On Tuesday, however, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, called for sanctions on Iran to be “urgently reevaluated” to help its medical workers fight the virus.

Alongside Britain, France, and Germany, Iran has joined a plan for clinical trials on four drugs fighting the virus, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the country’s deputy health minister announced on Tuesday.