Iran introduced tougher restrictions on Saturday to curtail a third wave of coronavirus infections, with President Hassan Rouhani urging people to take COVID-19 “seriously” to help “lessen the death toll.”
To encourage people to stay at home, the government ordered the closure of nonessential businesses and services in 160 high-risk “red” towns and cities, where more than 53 million people live.
Any travel between the affected cities by private car is also suspended and rule breakers will be fined ten million rials, or about $40 for every 24 hours.
Lighter restrictions apply in some 208 lower-risk “orange” and 80 “yellow” cities, where the fine for breaches is five million rials.
Public transportation will be available but the use of private cars is banned from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.
The president said in televised remarks on Saturday the two-week restrictions could be extended if the desired results were not achieved.
He called on people to act “responsibly” in order to help flatten the third wave of coronavirus successfully.
“People should take the risk of the virus seriously, observe social distancing and avoid family gatherings,” the president said.
Rouhani noted that family gatherings have the highest risk in spreading the deadly disease and that the overnight ban on driving aims to cut them.
He said some 100,000 rapid coronavirus tests will be conducted daily which will help reduce fatalities and admissions to hospitals.
The president added that the government plans to supply cash subsidies to Iran’s 30 million poorest people for four months to help them manage the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak.
Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raeisi said that 10% of people who ignore the health regulations could spread the virus to 80% of the population, adding that family gatherings were the main cause of infections.
People who have tested positive for the virus are required to stay at home and can face a roughly $8 cash fine if they appear in public.
Iran has recorded daily death tolls of above 430 over the past five days.
The Health Ministry reported 431 COVID-19 deaths over the past 24 hours, taking the overall toll to 44,327. Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari also said that total cases rose by 12,931 to 841,308.
Iran has avoided the full lockdowns seen in other countries to keep its economy moving in the face of tough US sanctions.
In Tehran, the head of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, Qassem Nodeh, said that the restrictions will lead to the closure of 70% of business in the capital and its surrounding areas.
The closures are set to last two weeks but can be automatically extended.
Government offices that provide essential public services —including banks, post offices, and communications and utilities services — will continue their work with half of the regular number of staff. All other government offices will continue working with one third of their staff.
Media organizations, construction jobs, agriculture, heavy industry, and services for the elderly and assisted living are largely exempt from the closures.
Reuters and AP contributed to this story.