By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, March 26 (Reuters) – Iran has started an intercity travel ban, an Iranian official said in a televised news conference on Thursday, a day after Iran‘s government spokesman warned the country might face a surge of cases in the coronavirus pandemic.
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.
The outbreak has killed 2,234 people in Iran where there have been 29,406 reported cases of the virus so far.
“Those who have travelled for the Iranian New Year holidays should immediately return to their cities without making any stops in other cities on their way back home,” said Hossein Zolfaghari, a member of Iran‘s national headquarters for fighting the coronavirus.
The authorities have called on Iranians to avoid public places and stay at home, while schools, universities, cultural and sports centres have been temporarily closed.
“The closure of universities and schools as well as suspension of gatherings has been extended,” Zolfaghari said, adding that violators of the measures will face legal consequences.
Shut out of international capital markets and facing a further hit to its finances with the collapse in oil prices coming on top of U.S. sanctions, Iran is struggling to shield its economy from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Despite being under tough U.S. sanctions … our fight against the coronavirus outbreak continues and we will overcome the outbreak,” said Rouhani.
Tensions have risen between longtime foes Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran‘s economy.
Iranian authorities, blaming U.S. sanctions for hampering Tehran’s efforts to curb the outbreak, have urged other countries and the United Nations to call on Washington to lift the sanctions.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Perry and Jason Neely)