TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iran was to impose a nightly curfew on Tuesday on businesses in Tehran and other big cities and towns as the country battles a major surge in coronavirus infections.
Restaurants and nonessential businesses in Tehran and 30 other cities were ordered to close at 6 p.m. for one month, to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and to slow the worsening outbreak, which has killed more than 39,000 — the highest toll in the Middle East. Iran has set single-day death records 10 times over the past month, a sign of how quickly the virus is spreading.
The announcement of new limits on Tehran’s bustling cafes and shops, the strictest since a brief nationwide business shutdown in April, reflects the growing sense of urgency among officials. In a first, Iranians’ phones lit up on Monday with a personal appeal from Saeed Namaki, the health minister.
"Do not leave your house for as long as you can and stay away from any crowded places,” his text read. "Coronavirus is no joke.”
Yet Iran continues to avoid a tougher lockdown. The country is already squeezed by unprecedented American sanctions reimposed in 2018 when the Trump administration withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers.
Authorities may introduce other targeted measures, like a nighttime ban on through traffic on streets to keep Iranians from going to parties, Tehran Governor Anoushiravan Bandpay said.
As Iran’s infection rate soars and strains hospitals, the debate over the government’s response to the virus has grown heated. Medical officials this week lambasted the government’s refusal to shut down the hard-hit capital, which they say
is the only hope for containing the virus’ spread.
"The lack of a lockdown in Tehran is a disaster,” said Mino Mohraz, a member of the country’s coronavirus task force, according to local media.
"Usually countries that do not listen to health officials face problems,” she added. "A good example is the United States.”
Husseinali Shahriari, who heads a parliamentary health committee, sent a letter Tuesday to President Hassan Rouhani demanding that he impose a centralized lockdown up to 30 days in all provincial capitals, the Tasnim news agency reported.
Namaki said Iran plans to more than double the number of coronavirus tests it carries out daily to 100,000.
Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 453 people had died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 39,202. She said 10,339 new cases were detected, lifting the total tally to 703,288.
"Tests have now increased from 25,000 to 40,000 per day and will soon increase to 100,000 with ... rapid tests,” said Namaki, quoted by the state news agency IRNA.