Iran to pardon 10,000 more prisoners as virus deaths spike
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Iran to pardon 10,000 more prisoners as virus deaths spike

Move apparently aimed at preventing further spread of coronavirus; Tehran’s Health Ministry spokesman says 1 Iranian dies ‘every 10 minutes’ of the disease

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wearing plastic gloves, speaks during a tree planting ceremony in Tehran, Iran, March 3, 2020. I(Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wearing plastic gloves, speaks during a tree planting ceremony in Tehran, Iran, March 3, 2020. I(Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s top leader will pardon 10,000 more prisoners in an apparent effort to combat the coronavirus, state TV reported Thursday.

As part of steps to curb the spread of the new virus that has killed more than 1,100 people in Iran, the country has already released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave.

On Wednesday, Iran said another 147 people had died from the virus, the biggest 24-hour rise in fatalities since Iranian officials first acknowledged infections of the virus in mid-February.

Separately, the United Arab Emirates added to its list of people barred from entering all residents who are currently abroad. The decision impacts people whose homes, children, bank accounts and livelihoods are in the country, but who were traveling or outside the country. The ban goes into effect at mid-day Thursday for at least two weeks. Only Emirati citizens are allowed to return.

The UAE, which is home to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has 113 confirmed cases of the virus. It announced it was suspending all new labor permits, including those for drivers and domestic workers, until “further notice.”

The UAE is unique in that only about 10% of its population, or about 1 million people, are Emirati citizens. The other 90% are foreign residents who fuel its economy and keep the country running. They hold the vast majority of jobs in construction, transportation, hospitality, sales, medicine, education and other key sectors.

The Middle East has some 20,000 cases of the virus, with most in Iran or originating from Iran.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

A shopkeeper, center, wearing a face mask and gloves, to help protect against the new coronavirus, talks with his customer at the Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, Iran, March 17, 2020. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

To encourage people to stay at home in Iran, Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour wrote on social media that the virus infects 50 Iranians on average every single hour and that “one dies every 10 minutes.”

“Make smart decisions about travel, visits and meetings,” he wrote on Twitter, as highways remained crowded with people traveling to see family ahead of the Iranian New Year on Friday.

State TV quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili as saying that 10,000 prisoners — among them an unknown number of inmates whose cases are political and related to activism or speech — would be granted amnesty under a decree by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the occasion of the new year, called Nowruz.

Occasionally Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, pardons prisoners. Last year, he pardoned more than 50,000 on the 40th anniversary of 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Western nations have urged Iran to release dual nationals and others, alleging they are used as bargaining chips in negotiations.

Among those temporarily freed was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British dual national long held on internationally criticized charges. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the charitable Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in 2016 on charges of trying to topple the government while traveling with her toddler daughter.

A Pakistani volunteer checks the body temperature of a passenger to help detect coronavirus, at a railway station in Lahore, Pakistan, March 18, 2020. (K.M. Chaudhry/AP)

In Pakistan, shrines of Sufi saints in the capital Islamabad and elsewhere were closed. Visits to museums, archaeological and tourist sites were banned as the number of cases of coronavirus jumped to 301, mostly among pilgrims returning from Iran.

Two people who were tested positive upon their return from Saudi Arabia and Dubai became the first victims of the virus in Pakistan when they died Wednesday in the northwest.

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