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COVID-19: Iran Warns Virus Could Kill 'Millions' As Death Toll Reaches 988


Source: RFE/RL

Iranian state television has warned that the coronavirus outbreak could kill "millions" in the Islamic republic if the public keeps ignoring health measures as the death toll spiked to almost 1,000. The warning was broadcast on March 17 in the afternoon, after the Health Ministry said 135 more people had been killed by the new coronavirus over the past day, a 13 percent spike that pushed the death toll to 988.

Official Iran's statistics on coronavirus as of March 17
Infections: 16,169
Deaths: 988
New Cases: 1,178
Recovered: 5,389

Iran has the third-most registered cases after China and Italy.

"Reports by more than 56 laboratories indicated that we have had 1,178 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the past 24 hours," Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said.

"This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 16,169 as of today noon," he added.

Burial for a coronavirus victim in Qom, Iran
 (photo by ISNA)

The rise in deaths came amid the temporary release of some 85,000 inmates earlier on March 17 -- a measure that authorities said was meant to help curb the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said those freed include political prisoners.

"Some 50 percent of those released are security-related prisoners...Also in the jails we have taken precautionary measures to confront the outbreak," Esmaili said, giving no further details.

A medical staff at coronavirus ward of Kamkar hospital in Qom, Iran
(photo by ISNA)

There are suspicions that the outbreak in the Islamic republic -- whose government is known for its opaqueness and censorship -- is far worse than authorities are admitting.

President Hassan Rohani on March 16 urged Iranians to stay home for the Norouz holiday celebrations on March 20 and to avoid traveling over the festive period, while state TV announced the temporary closure of Shi'ite shrines to limit exposure to the corunavirus.

"We Will Stay Home"
Reads headline of Iranian daily Shoroo

The announcement prompted angry crowds of hard-line Shi'ite faithful to storm into the courtyards of two major shrines -- Mashhad's Imam Reza shrine and Qom's Fatima Masumeh shrine -- late on March 16.

Crowds typically pray there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, touching and kissing the shrine. That's worried health officials, who for weeks have ordered Iran's Shi'ite clergy to close them.

See Interactive Coronavirus Map: The Spread Of The Infection

With reporting by AP, dpa, IRNA, and Reuter

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