Iran reports its largest coronavirus death toll within 24-hour period
Iran's health ministry on Sunday reported 49 new deaths from the COVID-19 disease, the highest toll within 24 hours since the start of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.
The outbreak of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in Iran is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the virus originated late last year.
Jahanpour added that 743 new infections were also confirmed within the past 24 hours, bringing the number of cases to 6,566 spread across all of Iran's 31 provinces.
With 1,805 infections, the capital Tehran remains part of the province with the most cases, the spokesman added.
Reporting from Tehran, Reza Sayah said Iranians have been coping as best they can as the country, already grappling with the effects of tough US sanctions, faces yet another crisis. “The overwhelming majority of people we’re seeing here in Iran are dealing with this outbreak in a civil and cooperative way. Sure they’re concerned, but they’re helping one and another, they’re taking precautionary measures, they’re not going out to social gatherings, they’re doing the best they can in a civil manner,” said Sayaf.
Iran has imposed travel restrictions on 15 provinces, said Sayah. Schools and universities have been closed until the end of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrations in early April.
“In less than two weeks, it’s Nowruz, the Persian New Year, perhaps the biggest and most popular national holiday when Iranians get together and socialise with family and friends,” said Sayaf. “That’s not going to happen the way it usually does, and that’s another hit to this country that has seen many crises over the past couple of years.”
Outside Tehran, the situation in the provinces continued to deteriorate, with Jahanpour saying 685 cases were detected in and around Qom, the holy Shiite city south of Tehran where the country's first cases were reported.
He said the number of cases was also "rising quickly" in Isfahan, a popular tourist destination, where there were now 564 people sick with the virus.
Iran Air announced on Sunday the suspension of all its flights to Europe until further notice.
The statement issued by the company made no mention of the novel coronavirus epidemic as a reason for the measure, citing only "restrictions" imposed by European authorities for "unknown reasons".
Nowruz – The Iranian New Year
Nowruz is one of the oldest celebrations in the world. It has been a fixture on the cultural calendar in many regions for more than 2,500 years. It marks the beginning of spring and also the change of seasons in the Iranian solar calendar. Sharam Ahad offers his impressions of the celebrations.
Nowruz celebration minus the festivities: Persian New Year is usually the time when family and friends come together to welcome the spring. In other years the streets would be full of people celebrating. But many Iranians have modified their celebrations this March in response to the corona crisis, spending the time at home with only their nearest and dearest. Some, however, still want to capture the beginning of spring on camera, like this man in Tehran's Mellat Park
Traditional dances: Nowruz celebrations prominently feature dancing, even in countries such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kirgizstan (photo). People congregate on public squares or in stadiums, where New Year festivities are organized.
Spanning all the way to China: In 2009, UNESCO included Nowruz, one of the oldest celebrations of mankind, in its world cultural heritage list. The celebrations marking the spring equinox (March 20- 21) are held in a vast area comprising the Middle East, Central Asia, and even beyond, including the Uighur regions of western China.
Kurdish celebration: Nowruz is also an important holiday for Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Celebrations were banned for decades in Turkey and Syria. Since 1994, Nowruz has been officially recognized as a traditional Turkish festivity, which was first officially celebrated nationwide in 1995. The photo shows celebrations in southeast Turkey.
Burning enthusiasm: The origins of Nowruz date back to the pre-Islamic history of Iran. Authorities in the Islamic Republic tolerate the festivity with reluctance but have never been able to restrict it. In particular, the country's moral guardians dislike the popular tradition of "fire jumping" on the streets on the eve of the holiday.
The "Chaharshanbe Suri" fire ritual: People jump over bonfires and while singing this song: "Give me your warmth, take away my cold, give me your red, take away my yellow (referring to a pale complexion).
Spring-cleaning: Somehow, spring and cleaning belong together. While the tradition in Germany is to wash windows, Iranians are keen to air out their carpets at this time of year. In Iran, spring-cleaning is called "shaking the house."
Good fortune seven times over: The seven S's and their meanings are: Sekkeh (coins = prosperity), Sib (apple = health), Somaq (fragrant sumac = "the taste of life"), Sonbol (hyacinths = friendship), Sir (garlic = protection), Senjed (oleaster = "the seed of life"), and Serkeh (vinegar = happiness), as well as Samanou, a paste made from the germ of seven grains.
Swimming lucky charms: Days before the start of New Year's festivities, goldfish can be found for sale everywhere. They are intended to decorate the "Haft Sin," the traditional Nowruz table setting, symbolizing life and good fortune.
Herald of Nowruz: The "Haji Firuz" is the traditional herald of the New Year in Iran. With singing and dance, he spreads cheer and joy in anticipation of Nowruz. Clad in red clothes, the Haji Firuz is meant to symbolize warmth and good cheer.
Nowruz at the White House: First Lady Michelle Obama hosted Nowruz celebrations in Washington in mid-March this year, which of course included traditional dancing and "Haft Sin".
"Haft Sin", the "seven S's": the "Haft Sin" ritual is an integral part of Nowruz celebrations first and foremost in Iran, but also in Afghanistan. It is a table or tablecloth set with the "seven S's": The table, or a tablecloth spread out on the floor, is set with seven things that begin with "S" in Persian and that are symbolic of the new year.
According to several specialised sites, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) banned Iran Air aircraft from European airspace, namely an Airbus A321-200 and two Airbus A330-200 that had not undergone necessary upgrades for authorisation to fly in Europe, on 3 February.
Sweden on 2 March announced it was temporarily suspending the flight permits of Iran Air on the advice of health officials who said Tehran was "not in control" of the novel coronavirus outbreak on its soil.
The Iranian carrier operates flights to multiple European destinations including Paris, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Vienna and Rome.
Saudi Arabia locks down predominantly Shia eastern province
Across the Persian Gulf, Iran’s archfoe Saudi Arabia imposed a temporary lockdown on its eastern Qatif province, home to the kingdom’s marginalised Shia population, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Saudi authorities on Sunday said 11 coronavirus cases had been recorded in the eastern province. "Given that all 11 recorded positive cases of the new coronavirus are from Qatif ... it has been decided ... to temporarily suspend entry and exit from Qatif," the Saudi interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The move risks stirring resentment in Qatif, which has been a flashpoint between the Sunni-dominated Saudi government and minority Shias in the country who have complained of discrimination, charges the government denies.
Saudi authorities have previously said those infected have either been to Iran or interacted with people who visited the Islamic Republic, home to major Shiite holy sites.