President Hassan Rouhani told members of his cabinet on Sunday that Iran’s record of dealing with the coronavirus epidemic “is acceptable” compared with other countries. He claimed that in some provinces there is “improvement”, while critics say his government’s response has been slow, chaotic and sometimes self-contradictory.
Rouhani’s assurances about a proper handling of the epidemic came, as the spokesperson of his health ministry a day earlier complained about lack if intensive care capacity in hospitals and a shortage of ventilators, adding that the country has requested help from aborad.
However, Rouhani said "the new way of life" in Iran was likely to be prolonged by the coronavirus outbreak, as the country's declared death toll rose to 2,640.
Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the virus, and experts have been skeptical about the official figures released by the Islamic regime that keeps a tight lid on local and foreign media.
Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran's health minister, tweeted on March 29 that the death toll has risen to 2,640 and the number of infected people has reached 38,309.
"In the past 24 hours we had 123 deaths and 2,901 people have been infected, bringing the total number of infected people to 38,309," Vahabsadeh said.
Iran's Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV that "some 3,467 of those infected are in critical condition."
"I am happy to announce that also 12,391 people who had been infected across the country have recovered ... The average age of those who have died of the disease is 69," said Jahanpur.
While the health ministry has issued mostly linear numbers since the outbreak was announced on February 19, Radio Farda’s independent estimate puts the number of deaths at 4,300 and cases of hospitalization at twice the government’s official figure for infections.
Iran announced its first infection cases on February 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January.
Meanwhile, Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on March 29, "We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date."
"The new way of life we have adopted" is to everyone's benefit, he said, adding that "these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time."
Tehran on March 25 decided to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.
Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home "as much as possible."
Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the closure was later extended to the whole country.
The reopening of schools following this year's Persian New Year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely after Rohani's warning.
Iran has refused the United States' offer of humanitarian assistance, saying that Washington should lift sanctions if it wants to help Tehran fight the epidemic.
Iran has been under crippling U.S. sanctions in connection with its nuclear and missile programs.
Based on reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters and Iran media