Iran to ban intercity travel due to coronavirus

Iran to announce strict new measures as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Elad Benari ,

Tehran
Tehran
iStock

Iran will ban intercity travel within days in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 2,000 people, officials said Wednesday, according to AFP.

The strict new measures come after weeks of cajoling largely failed to prevent hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking to the roads to visit family for the two-week Persian New Year holiday.

"New journeys will be banned, leaving towns and cities will be banned," government spokesman Ali Rabii announced on Wednesday, hours after President Hassan Rouhani revealed the government was poised to introduce "difficult" new measures against the outbreak.

"People should return to their home towns as quickly as possible," Rabii added.

He said the government would issue a statutory instrument setting out fines for violations.

"Of course, the security forces are going to stop it," he said, referring to travel on Iran's major highways.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told the official news agency IRNA that the ban would enter force "tomorrow or the day after".

Addressing a cabinet meeting earlier, Rouhani had warned that the new measures could be adopted as soon as Wednesday evening.

Iran, which is the hardest hit country in the Middle East, on Wednesday announced 143 new deaths from the coronavirus, raising the official death toll to 2,077.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour added that "our colleagues have registered 2,206 new cases of COVID-19 infection" in the past 24 hours, bringing total infections to 27,017.

The virus has killed several Iranian politicians and officials and infected others.

High-profile deaths in Iran from the coronavirus include a member of the council advising the Ayatollah, a former ambassador, a newly-elected member of parliament, an adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and a re-elected member of parliament.

Ayatollah Hashem Bathayi Golpayegani, a member of the Assembly of Experts that appoints and monitors Khamenei, died from the virus.

Before Wednesday, Iran had long resisted imposing any lockdown, choosing instead to rely on verbal appeals for people to stay home.

But those have been widely ignored. The traditional holiday exodus from Iran's cities went ahead largely undiminished raising fears of the virus spreading deeper into the countryside.

"There has been a long debate within the National Committee for Fighting the Coronavirus about how to strengthen the measures we have taken," Rouhani said in his televised comments to the cabinet.

"We need to step up those measures," he said, adding that the health ministry had "presented the committee with a plan" that could be "approved and published" during the day.

"It may create problems for people's travel plans and require that people return home early," the president said.

"It could stop the next wave of journeys. People have to realize that these are difficult decisions that are being taken to protect people's lives. But we have no choice, because the lives of Iranians are important to us," stressed Rouhani.

The new measures will be adopted for 15 days and would be "implemented thoroughly until Saturday, April 4," the day when children normally return to school after the holiday, he added.



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