Iran warns it could use ‘force’ to halt travel amid virus

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) — Iranian authorities warned they may use “force” to limit travel between cities and announced the new coronavirus has killed 124 people amid 4,747 confirmed cases in the Islamic Republic.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour offered the figures at a televised news conference. He did not elaborate on the threat to use force, though he acknowledged the virus was in all of Iran’s 31 provinces.

The threat may be to stop people from using closed schools and universities as an excuse to go to the Caspian Sea and other Iranian vacation spots. Semiofficial news agencies in Iran posted images of long traffic lines as people tried to reach the Caspian coast from Tehran on Friday, despite authorities earlier telling people to remain in their cities.

Iran on Thursday announced it would put checkpoints in place to limit travel between major cities, hoping to stem the spread of the virus.

Iran cancelled Friday prayers across its major cities. Elsewhere in the region, Iraq cancelled Friday prayers in Karbala, where a weekly sermon is delivered on behalf of the country’s top cleric.

More than 4,990 cases of the virus, which causes the illness COVID-19, have been confirmed across the Middle East. Iran and Italy have the world’s highest death tolls outside of China.

In Qom, the holy city particularly hard-hit by the virus, physician Javad Khodadadi was confirmed with the virus, the official IRNA news agency reported. Khodadadi is head of a hospital in the city and had been treating patients infected with the virus. He is the 14th local medical staff member to become infected with the virus.

In Tehran, firefighters sprayed disinfectant on an 18-kilometre length of Tehran’s famous Valiasr Avenue, some from firetrucks and others walking along its sidewalks, spraying ATMs and storefronts.

“It would be great if they did it every day,” grocery store owner Reza Razaienejad said after the firefighters sprayed outside his shop. “It should not be just a one-time thing and should be done frequently, especially in places like here where movement and traffic happens a lot.”

Firefighters disinfect a traditional shopping centre to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in northern Tehran, Iran. PHOTO: AP