Iran reaches coronavirus ‘crossroads,’ should implement lockdown: Yale expert

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Iran’s coronavirus outbreak is at a critical point and the government should respond by implementing a lockdown and banning all flights, according to Yale University epidemiologist Dr. Kaveh Khoshnood.

Iran’s coronavirus death toll reached 724 on Sunday, according to an Iranian health ministry official, with over 13,938 cases in the country. However, the number of infected is likely much higher, in the tens of thousands, according to Dr. Khoshnood, who said it is time for “active, aggressive measures.”

“Iran is at a crossroads - if they take serious control measures now, they have an opportunity to hopefully contain the outbreak. But if they don’t, it’s just going to escalate,” said Dr. Khoshnood in an interview with Al Arabiya English.

Iran’s health ministry urged citizens on Sunday to cancel travel and stay home, but did not mandate a lockdown, a strategy used by coronavirus epicenters like China and Italy to contain the virus.

“It makes sense for a lockdown, but also to make sure that the people under lockdown have the resources they need to live under those circumstances,” Dr. Khoshnood said.

Iran, the epicenter of the coronavirus in the Middle East, is in an “early phase” of the outbreak, according to Dr. Khoshnood, contrary to Iranian health minister Saeed Namaki’s prognosis two weeks ago that the epidemic was reaching its peak in the country.

It is not possible to accurately predict the peak of the epidemic, according to Dr. Khoshnood.

Cases of the virus continue to climb even after the government took its most severe measure so far to confront the epidemic on Thursday - clearing streets across the country for 24 hours to check all citizens for coronavirus.

Other measures have included closing schools and universities, halting Friday prayers, setting up checkpoints between cities, and discouraging travel ahead of the Iranian New Year holiday on March 20.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on March 6 that Iran’s strategies to control the virus were “evolving in the right direction,” but more work was needed.

“This is the time for Iran to think long-term and to think of the protection of its citizens,” Dr. Khoshnood said.

At least 13 Iranian regime figures have died due to coronavirus and 11 others have been infected since the beginning of the outbreak in the country.

Iran’s coronavirus epidemic has not only affected its own nationals, but many people around the region. With over thousands of coronavirus cases across the Middle East, most link back to the Islamic Republic.

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Iran has yet to stem the spread through the halting of all flights coming in and out of the country, a preventative measure taken by Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Iran’s national airlines IranAir stopped all flights to Europe on March 8, according to the official IRNA news agency, but resumed European operations days later, on March 12, according to Switzerland-based aviation information company ch-Aviation.

Iran should now “implement the ban on all flights, both to protect Iranian nationals and to contribute to the control of the worldwide pandemic,” said Khoshnood.