TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that lockdowns meant to curb the spread of the pandemic could lead to street protests over economic problems, his website reported.
In a regular Cabinet meeting on the coronavirus, Rouhani said the easiest way to fight the virus is to close off all activities. But “then people come and stage protests because of chaos, famine and problems," he said.
Confirmed virus cases and deaths reached a record low in May after mass lockdowns were imposed in Iran. But since then, the numbers have spiked again, with officials saying a combination of improved testing and re-openings has driven the surge.
Rouhani urged that ceremonies be held with a limited number of participants. Many experts blame an increase in virus-related deaths over the past week on wedding and funeral ceremonies with large crowds.
Ali Reza Zali, the head of Tehran's virus task force, in a letter to officials banned any conferences, festivals or exhibitions and limited participants in wedding and funeral ceremonies to 10.
Earlier this week, Iran reported 221 fatalities in a 24-hour period, the highest single-day death toll.
Rouhani's remarks came as many experts urged a halt to business activities to stop the increase in virus related deaths that have exceeded 12,600 out of 255,117 confirmed cases.
Iranian officials have been particularly eager to remove restrictions on its economy, already crippled by sanctions the U.S. imposed after the Trump administration’s 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement.
A sharp rise in subsidized gasoline prices led to four days of unrest in cities and towns across Iran in November, which rights group Amnesty International said led to more than 300 people being killed in clashes with police and security forces.
Tehran has yet to release any official statistics about the scale of the unrest, though in June the government acknowledged that the security forces shot and killed protesters and a lawmaker said that 230 people were killed in the anti-government protests.