This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iran has closed all schools and adopted a series of other new measures as it battles the worst outbreak of coronavirus outside of China.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki said on March 5 that all schools and universities will remain closed until the end of the Iranian calendar year on March 20, and that checkpoints will be used to limit travel between major cities.
“People should not consider this as an opportunity to go travelling. They should stay home and take our warnings seriously,” Namaki said at a televised press conference.
The moves come after authorities said the death toll in Iran from COVID-19, the illness sparked by the coronavirus had risen to 107, while the number of confirmed cases had reached 3,513.
The coronavirus has been found in almost all of Iran’s provinces, President Hassan Rohani said on March 4, and many experts fear the real toll of both the dead and the infected could be much higher.
Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, accused the Iranian leadership of “not being transparent” over the extent of the outbreak.
“Iran lied to its own people about the coronavirus,” Hook told reporters. “It told them it was not anything to worry about but at the same time the virus was spreading throughout Iran.”
Hook said the United States offered humanitarian assistance to help Iran deal with its outbreak but “the regime rejected the offer.”
Friday Prayers in all Iranian provincial capitals this week have been canceled because of the outbreak.
Namaki listed several measures that Iranians could take to help impede the spread of the coronavirus, including a reduction of the use of paper money.
He also said people should remain in their vehicles when filling up at the gas station and instead allow attendants to do the job.
In a sign of the growing nervousness across the region over the outbreak, Palestinian authorities on March 5 said the storied Nativity Church in the biblical city of Bethlehem, built atop the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, will close indefinitely.
There have been more than 3,740 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Middle East, many of which have links to Iran.
The outbreak has disrupted Islamic worship throughout the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia on March 4 banned its citizens and other residents of the kingdom from performing the pilgrimage in Mecca, which attracts millions of people each year.
The move expands a previous ban on foreigners visiting Mecca and Medina, home to the holiest sites in Islam.
COVID-19 has killed more than 3,000 people and infected tens of thousands more, mainly in China.
The disease has now spread to more than 60 other countries, leading to multiple travel and other restrictions.