Iranian parliament convenes for first time since start of coronavirus pandemic

At least 31 members of the parliament, including Speaker Ali Larijani, have contracted COVID-19.

Elad Benari ,

Iranian Parliament in session
Iranian Parliament in session

Iran's parliament convened on Tuesday for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak forced its doors to close, as the country reported a drop in new infections for the seventh straight day, AFP reports.

More than two-thirds of the legislature's 290 members gathered in the absence of speaker and veteran politician Ali Larijani, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

At least 31 members of the parliament, or Majles, which had been shut since February 25, have contracted the disease.

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.

A top adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayati, was also reported to have been infected with the virus.

State television footage of Tuesday’s opening session showed some MPs huddling together despite guidelines on social distancing to stop the spread of the virus.

Parliament debated and eventually blocked an urgent bill to totally lock down the country for a month, with those against arguing it would damage the economy.

Iran is by far the Middle East country worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic and there has been speculation abroad that the real numbers of deaths and infections could be significantly higher than the official figures suggest.

On Tuesday, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour reported 133 new coronavirus deaths, saying the overall fatalities had reached 3,872.

Another 2,089 infections were recorded nationwide, bringing the total to 62,589.

In a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19, Iran has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and imposed inter-city travel bans, while refraining from a lockdown.

But its taskforce to battle the virus said "low-risk" businesses would be allowed to reopen from Saturday, while observing health protocols.

The body said two-thirds of public servants must go to work and the rest could do so from home.

It also said newspaper and magazine publishers could resume their print editions from Saturday, after being barred for a week.

On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that the restrictions imposed on the public to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country would be eased gradually in the coming weeks.