Iran reported its single biggest jump in deaths from the new coronavirus, saying Wednesday another 147 had died in a nearly 15 percent spike that raises the death toll to 1,135 people nationwide.
The rise in deaths comes as the number of infections continues to grow each day, with some 17,361 people infected, according to Iran’s deputy health minister, Alireza Raisi.
Meanwhile, Friday will mark the Persian New Year, Nowruz, raising fears of people traveling and further spreading the virus.
That is the biggest 24-hour rise in deaths yet recorded by Iran’s Health Ministry since the virus first appeared in Iran in mid-February. Iran’s deputy health minister, Alireza Raisi, announced the new tolls at a televised press conference on Wednesday.
The outbreak has cast a shadow over the Persian New Year, Nowruz, a normally joyous holiday that begins on Friday. Health officials have urged the public to avoid travel and crowded places.
But many seem to be ignoring the warnings, raising the risk of further outbreaks.
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Some food markets in the capital, Tehran, were still packed on Wednesday, and highways were crowded with traffic as families traveled between cities.
Iran also announced it would close mosques for communal Friday prayers for a third consecutive week. Other Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have also cancelled Friday prayers in mosques.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday defended his government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in the face of widespread criticism that officials acted too slowly and may have even covered up initial cases before infections rapidly spread across the country.
In a speech to his Cabinet, Rouhani said the government was “straightforward" with the nation, saying it announced the outbreak as soon as it learned about it on February 19.
The government has come under heavy criticism for what has been seen as a slow and inadequate response. For weeks, government officials implored clerics to shut down crowded holy shrines to stymie the spread of the virus. The government finally closed the shrines this week.
The new coronavirus has spread to more than 100 countries, infected more than 195,000 people worldwide and killed more than 7,800.
For most people, it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.