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Iranian Doctors Call For 'Long Holiday' To Contain Coronavirus, As Sixth Victim Dies

Voter in Iran's parliamentary elections on Friday wearing a mask for protection against coronavirus infection. February 21, 2020
Voter in Iran's parliamentary elections on Friday wearing a mask for protection against coronavirus infection. February 21, 2020

A group of doctors from various universities of Tehran has called on the government to shut down all schools, universities, theaters and cinemas, stadiums and other public places until after Nowrouz (New Year) holidays to contain the coronavirus outbreak and prevent the virus from spreading.

Nowrouz is celebrated on March 21 and public holidays last through March 24, with schools closed for thirteen days.

Meanwhile, on Saturday evening residents of Talesh, a city in Gilan Province where a hospital has been designated to quarantine coronavirus patients, protested against officials demanding that the patients be transferred elsewhere. Riot police clashed with protesters and fired tear gas to disperse protesters. Casualties or arrests have not been reported yet.

A citizen-reporter has sent a video of the protest in Talesh to a journalist abroad. According to him protesters are worried about the spread of the virus to the residents and angry because authorities transferred coronavirus patients to the hospital secretly without any prior announcement.

Video from Talesh where police fired tear gas to disperse protesters against transferring coronavirus patients from other cities to a local hospital.

Two days after the first cases of coronavirus were reported in Qom in central Iran, no measures have been taken to quarantine the city. Iran has so far had the highest coronavirus fatalities after China with six confirmed deaths and at least 28 cases of infection with the deadly virus as of Saturday.

Most of the cases in Iran include people living in Qom and those who have visited the religious city recently. Qom is home to the Shrine of Masoumeh which thousands of pilgrims visit every day.

Two high-ranking Shiite clerics, Ayatollah Naser Makarem-Shirazi and Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani-Tabrizi on Saturday issued messages to their followers about coronavirus and advised them to avoid unnecessary socializing and presence in public places. Ayatollah Sobhani has also told his followers to obey the guidelines of doctors and health authorities who advise staying away from public places.

However, an official of the Masoumeh Shrine in Qom, where so far four patients have died, has opposed shutting down the shrine and said that the mere presence of pilgrims will cause no problem. "Pilgrims are usually informed and will be cautious" about touching surfaces at the shrine, he said.

Departments of Education in three provinces of have already announced the closure of schools on Sunday and Monday.

The Minister of Education on Saturday said the decision to close schools lies with the security and health authorities. However, the Minister said all student field trips have been cancelled.

The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, too, has announced the cancellation of all concerts and other cultural events for one week.

Despite the outbreak the Ministry of Sports has not yet taken any steps to cancel sporting events, including football (soccer) matches.

In Tehran the mayor of one of the districts of the capital has tested positive for coronavirus. The official has held meetings with many others including the members of the City Council.

A shortage of masks and disinfectant gels has widely been reported by social media users. On Saturday the Ministry of Health announced that it will be buying all the masks produced by Iranian companies and distribute them among families free of charge.

The Iranian Cyber-Police has warned that it will take strong measures against people who "spread false news and images on social media". According to the Chief of the Cyber-Police several individuals have been detained for spreading rumors.

The Head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday expressed serious concern that Iran had reported 18 cases and four deaths in just two days.

The cases in Iran have no clear epidemiological link to the outbreak in China but many Iranian social media users and even Mohammad Eslami, a lawmaker, have pointed out a possible link between the continuation of Mahan Air flights to China and the outbreak in Iran. The airline is reportedly owned in part by the Revolutionary Guard.