Iran says coronavirus death toll reaches 1,284
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Iran says coronavirus death toll reaches 1,284

Health Ministry says number of infections dropped in 11 of the country’s 31 provinces, but experts fear numbers under-reported; 10,000 prisoners to be freed in Nowruz amnesty

Iranians, some wearing protective masks, gather inside the capital Tehran's grand bazaar, during the coronavirus pandemic crisis, on March 18, 2020 (AFP)
Iranians, some wearing protective masks, gather inside the capital Tehran's grand bazaar, during the coronavirus pandemic crisis, on March 18, 2020 (AFP)

Iranian authorities on Thursday announced 149 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, raising the toll to 1,284 in a country that is one of the worst hit in the world by the pandemic.

While Thursday’s death toll surpassed the previous day’s — 147 were reported on Wednesday — the number of new cases has fallen, according to figures provided by Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi.

However, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official, Dr. Rick Brennan, said earlier this week after returning from a mission to Iran, that the country’s case load is most likely severely under-reported due to lack of testing and could be as much as five times higher.

“We’ve said the weakest link in their chain is the data,” he told Reuters. “They are rapidly increasing their ability to test and so the numbers will go up.”

A shopkeeper wearing a face mask to help protect against the new coronavirus, waits for customers at the Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, Iran, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

According to official figures, a total of 18,407 people have contracted the disease in Iran, with 1,046 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours.

“In 11 provinces out of 31, the number of infections has decreased because people have followed our guidelines,” Raisi said, renewing the call for Iranians to stay home.

Tehran province had the highest number of new cases, with 137 reported, followed by the central province of Isfahan, with 108 and Gilan in the north with 73.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour tweeted that at the current rate, “50 new cases of infection are detected every hour and one death recorded every 10 minutes.”

“Considering this information, make a conscious decision concerning travel, days out and family visits during Nowruz,” the Persian New Year holiday, he said.

The Nowruz celebrations, which last from Friday until April 3, often see Iranians travel to visit family.

Iran is to free “around 10,000 prisoners” on Friday in an amnesty marking Nowruz, including half of those serving time for security offences, the judiciary said.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili made no explicit reference to the coronavirus in an overnight statement carried by the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.

The latest amnesty aims to “reduce the number of prisoners in light of the sensitive situation in the country,” Esmaili said.

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