Iran has ordered the closure of all schools, universities and cultural centres of several vulnerable provinces for 10 days in order to contain the spread of coronavirus that has killed eight people and infected 35 others so far.
Since it emerged in December, the new coronavirus has killed 2,345 people in China, the epicentre of the epidemic, and over 20 elsewhere in the world.
The COVID-19 outbreak in Iran first surfaced on Wednesday, when authorities said it claimed the lives of two elderly people in Qom, a Shiite holy city south of the capital.
They were the first confirmed deaths from the virus in the Middle East. Iran reported two more deaths on Friday and another one on Saturday.
The latest figures announced by the Health Ministry on Sunday take to 43 the total number of confirmed infections in Iran, out of which eight have passed away.
Based on official figures, nearly 18 percent of those infected with the new coronavirus in Iran have died, compared with little more than three percent in China.
As a “preventive measure”, authorities ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday.
They include Tehran, Qom, Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamadan, Alborz, Semnan, and Kurdistan.
The government also announced that “all art and cinema events in halls across the country have been cancelled until the end of the week [Friday]” in order to stop infections.
Sport events, including the football matches of the country’s premier league, will also be held without spectators.
The health ministry says tests had been carried out on 785 suspected coronavirus cases since the outbreak began.
“Most of the cases are either Qom residents or have a history of coming and going from Qom to other cities,” its spokesman said.
Iran has yet to confirm the origin of the outbreak, but the Health Minister announced on Sunday that one of the two first cases who died of COVID-19 was a businessman who had visited China through a third country.