By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, March 25 (Reuters) – Iran may face a second outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a government spokesman said on Wednesday, as the Islamic Republic banned internal travel and traditional gatherings in parks during the Persian New Year holiday period.
“Unfortunately some Iranians have ignored advice from health ministry officials and travelled during the New Year holidays … This could cause a second wave of the coronavirus,” spokesman Ali Rabiei said, according to state TV.
President Hassan Rouhani has banned any new trips between cities, Rabiei said, and “violators will be confronted legally”.
The escalating outbreak in Iran has killed 2,077 people so far, health ministry official Kianush Jahanpur said on Wednesday, with 143 deaths recorded in the past 24 hours.
Officials have complained that many Iranians ignored appeals to stay at home and cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20.
“This (new) plan is strict and it will create difficulties and restrictions for travel, and prompt people who have already travelled to return home faster,” Rouhani said in a remarks carried by state television.
At a meeting telecast live, Rouhani said more restrictions would be introduced to contain the coronavirus that has infected 27,017 people nationwide. The government has so far stopped short of imposing a lockdown on Iranian cities.
The president said gatherings would also be restricted during Sizdah Bedar on April 1, a nature festival during which Iranians traditionally have picnics outdoors.
“These are tough decisions that are necessary to protect lives. All parks may be closed, and Sizdah Bedar will not be like previous years, but we have no choice but to do so,” Rouhani said, adding that details of the plan will come shortly.
Authorities have called on Iranians to avoid public places and stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural and sports centres have been temporarily closed across the country.
Rouhani said the new measures would be implemented for 15 days until April 4, when under normal circumstances schools open in Iran after the New Year holidays.
Trucks filled with disinfectant and teams of municipal workers on foot continue to spray down streets, shrines, public parks, trash bins, public toilets and markets in Qom, Tehran and other cities and towns with cases of infection, state TV showed.
Authorities announced Iran‘s first infections and two deaths from the virus on Feb. 19. Iranian officials, including Rouhani, have repeatedly dismissed concerns raised by many Iranians about the government’s handling of the outbreak, saying all necessary measures to overcome the crisis have been taken.
(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)