While President Hassan Rouhani insists that "No such thing as quarantine exists in Iran and no local governors are allowed to make decisions about lockdowns," the governor general of Khuzestan has put the province effectively under quarantine by officially banning the arrival and departure of vehicles into and out of Khuzestan.
All this has been taking place on Sunday March 15 against a backdrop of rising infection and mortality as the cronavirus outbreak further takes root across Iran.
Speaking in Tehran on Sunday, Rouhani said the only authority to make decisions on lockdowns is the National Coronavirus Task Force in Tehran.
Responding to rumors about a possible quarantine in Tehran, he ruled out the possibility: "There is no such thing, not today, not during the New Year holidays, not before or after that," he said warning provincial officials not to over-rule this decision.
The official news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying that "The people should stay home as much as possible. They should not gather together and everything should be according to hygienic protocols."
During the past week, many officials in various parts of Iran have talked about lockdowns and officials in Khorasan and Khuzestan provinces have announced measures to restrict travels and social activities.
In Tehran, rumors about a possible lockdown have prompted people to rush to supermarkets and bakeries to buy and stockpile staples. This comes while many are still criticizing the government for not announcing quarantine regulations.
Tehran city councilor Mohsen Hashemi has called on officials not to speak in an uncalculated way in order to prevent panic, havoc and confusion in society.
Meanwhile, Tehran's mayor Pirouz Hanachi rejected the idea of imposing a quarantine on Tehran saying that due to economic pressures resulting from U.S. sanctions, the government cannot provide the financial means people need and are not able to compensate for businesses and people's losses in case of a lockdown.
In another development, Alireza Zali, the deputy to the head of disease control task force, said that a partial quarantine has already been imposed on major cities but businesses and offices have not been closed. However, he ruled out the feasibility of a total quarantine like what has been implemented in Italy.
Zali also complained that the government reacted to the crisis with delay and half-heartedly, while infections spread at a fast pace.
Rouhani said on Sunday that measures such as a delay in tax collection have been planned to alleviate pressures on citizens.
In the meantime, the outbreak is rapidly spreading in Iran. The spokesman for the health ministry, Kianush Jahanpur said on Sunday that the coronavirus death toll has reached 724, with 113 new deaths during the past day.
This is the highest fatality rate during one day since the start of the outbreak in Iran.
He also said that the total number of COVID-129 confirmed cases in Iran has risen to almost 14,000 as of Sunday. The figure is higher than the previous day by more than 1,200 cases and it’s the highest in the world after China and Italy.
While China's active cases have dropped to around 11,000, Iran's has climbed to almost 9,000, with Spain now at the top of the list.
Various sources inside and outside of Iran have questioned the integrity of the daily contagion and fatality figures released by the health ministry. An investigative report by Radio Farda based on the statements made by local officials in various parts of Iran put the death toll around 1,294 which is 500 higher than the official figure.
Jahanpur said the unusual rise in the number of confirmed cases in the provinces of Yazd, Khorasan Razavi and Lorestan was alarming. He said the rise in the number of infections in Yazd is a cause for concern as it is higher than the more densely populated neighboring provinces.
There have been 143 new cases of coronavirus in Khorasan Razavi, 52 in Lorestan and 36 in Yazd provinces during the past 24 hours.
The highest number of confirmed cases, however, has been registered in Tehran as 251 new patients have tested positive during the past day.