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The president of Iran has said the country cannot afford to shut down its sanctions-hit economy, even as the nation reels from a second-wave coronavirus outbreak that has brought rising infections and record high death tolls.
Iran must continue “economic, social and cultural activities while observing health protocols”, Hassan Rouhani said during a televised virus taskforce meeting on Saturday, according to AP.
“The simplest solution is to close down all activities, (but) the next day, people would come out to protest the (resulting) chaos, hunger, hardship and pressure,” he added.
Rouhani’s comments came as the health ministry reported 2,397 new cases over the past 24 hours on Saturday, taking the country’s total confirmed coronavirus cases to 255,117.
Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry spokeswoman, said 188 more people had died, taking the country’s total death toll to 12,635.
So far, 217,666 have recovered and 3,338 remain in critical condition, said Lari.
Iran has been struggling since late February to contain the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, the deadliest in the Middle East. The daily death toll has topped 100 since around mid-June, with a record single-day tally of 221 reported on Thursday.
The outbreak’s rising toll has prompted authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and to allow the hardest hit provinces to reimpose restrictive measures.
Iran closed schools, cancelled public events and banned movement between its 31 provinces in March, but Rouhani’s government progressively lifted restrictions from April to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
“It is not possible to keep businesses and economic activities shut down in the long-term,” Rouhani said, emphasising that “the people will not accept this”.
The health minister, Said Namaki, warned on Wednesday of a potential “revolt over poverty” and blamed US sanctions for the government’s “empty coffers”.
The reopening of the economy “was not over our ignorance (of the virus’ dangers), but it was due to us being on our knees against an economy that could take no more”, Namaki said on state television.