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Despite Coronavirus Epidemic, Iran Reopens Major Roads To Travel

Police restricting travel and checking cars on a road in Mazandaran. March 7, 2020
Police restricting travel and checking cars on a road in Mazandaran. March 7, 2020

Despite repeated warnings over the spread of novel coronavirus, roads leading to resorts in Iran’s northern province of Mazandaran were reopened March 7 by government decision.

Mazandaran, by the Caspian Sea, is one of the favorite destinations for domestic tourism.

Earlier on Thursday, the Governor of Mazandaran had declared that, as a precaution all roads leading to the province would be closed to tourists and non-residents of the region. But unexpectedly on Saturday the Deputy Governor of the province announced that since the Iranian weekend came to an end on Friday, access roads from other provinces will be open.

Nevertheless, according to the Islamic Republic's official news agency, IRNA, people from cities highly contaminated by coronavirus were hitching rides on trucks to travel to Mazandaran.

"People from cities highly hit by the novel coronavirus, including the holy city of Qom, escape from their homes, and travel on trucks to Mazandaran, in search of safe houses for short term rent," IRNA disclosed.

Seventeen people have died of Covid-19, and 658 are suspected of contracting coronavirus in Mazandaran, so far. However, residents of the province say on social media both the infection rate and the death toll is much higher than what the government says and hospitals cannot accept any more coronavirus cases.

"With so many people rushing toward Mazandaran, the region, particularly the city of Babol, is struggling with the complicated dilemma of how to contain the spread of the deadly virus," the representative of Babol to Majles (Islamic parliament), Ali Najafi Khoshroudi, lamented.

In the meantime, while roads to two other northern provinces of Gilan and Golestan were also declared closed, the Iranian Road management Center (IRMC) reported heavy traffic in Tehran-Bumehen-Jajroud road, leading to the northern parts of the country.

Moreover, the restriction on freeways from Tehran to north, and Qazvin to Rasht has also been removed.

Earlier, travel to the provinces of Isfahan, Fars, Hamadan, Ilam, Kerman, Khorasan Razavi, Qazvin, and Yazd was also banned.

Meanwhile, all roads even to the epicenter of the novel coronavirus in Iran, the city of Qom, has remained open.

Several influential clerics, as well as officials have rejected proposals to isolate the Shiite holy city, which received tens of thousands of pilgrims every day before the government admitted the outbreak.

Many citizens and some public figures have accused the government of not telling the public earlier about the spread of coronavirus in order to have a higher turnout in parliamentary elections, held February 21. But even after the first cases in Qom were announced, clerics resisted quarantining the city and critics say this led to the fast spread of the virus throughout the country.

Earlier, government authorities had warned they might use "force" to limit travel between cities.

It appears that nobody has taken the threat seriously.

The Islamic Republic Health Ministry spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, acknowledged last Friday that the virus had hit all of Iran's 31 provinces.

Iran and Italy have the world's highest Covid-19 death tolls outside of China.