TEHRAN: Iran called on its citizens on Thursday to avoid travel during the upcoming festival marking the end of Ramazan as it announced another surge in coronavirus infections.

The Islamic republic has entered a fourth month in its battle to contain the virus.

“Our biggest concern” is to have “new peaks of the disease in the country by not respecting health regulations,” said Health Minister Saeed Namaki.

“So I ask the dear Iranian people... not to travel during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. New trips mean new COVID-19 infections,” he said, quoted by the semi-official news agency ISNA.

Namaki’s remarks came as his ministry announced 66 more deaths and another 2,392 cases of coronavirus infection across Iran, which has the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak.

Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the latest figures took Iran’s overall death toll to 7,249 and its caseload of infections to 129,341.

He said that of the new infections, 351 were in people who had been hospitalised and 2,041 who had been in close contact with patients.

Jahanpour added that there were no new deaths in 12 of Iran’s 31 provinces, and that six provinces reported just one virus fatality.

The minister said people were failing to adhere to health protocols in Iran’s hardest-hit provinces.

“In Khuzestan province, and in some of the provinces that have experienced new outbreaks of the disease, we found that they had not followed instructions,” he said, referring to the government’s social distancing protocols.

Iran reported its first cases of coronavirus on Feb 19, two deaths in the Shiite holy city of Qom.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani was criticised for being slow to react as the virus spread rapidly across the Isamic republic.

It shut schools and places of worship and banned inter-city travel for the Persian New Year holidays in March, but since last month it has gradually eased restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the virus.

Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2020

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