TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — For the third time in a week, Iran on Wednesday marked its highest single-day record for new deaths and infections from the coronavirus, with 279 people killed and 4,830 new patients.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari made the announcement as Iran struggles with the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with more than 513,000 confirmed cases. It has seen over 29,300 deaths and 414,800 recoveries since announcing its first cases in February. Iran has a population of more than 83 million.
In recent weeks, Iran has seen daily death tolls spike to their highest-ever levels, sparking increasing concern even as government officials continue to resist a total lockdown for fear of cratering the economy, which has been hard-hit by U.S. sanctions.
On Wednesday, Iran announced a travel ban to and from five major cities, including the capital of Tehran and the holy city of Mashhad, to prevent the virus’s spread. Kianoush Jahanpour, a Health Ministry spokesman, told state TV that the travel ban aims to reduce risks ahead of a religious holiday on Saturday. Iran’s weekend is Thursdays and Fridays.
Under the plan, police will stop vehicles from entering the five cities if their license plates don't match the city they're entering. Many Iranians travel to Mashhad, some 900 kilometers (560 miles) northeast of Tehran, to visit the tomb of Imam Reza, Iran’s holiest Shia site.
The coronavirus has spread to some of the highest levels of Iran's government, many of whom are older men. Among those recently infected is the head of the country’s atomic energy organization, and Iran's vice president in charge of budget and planning also tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday.
Also on Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates reported a record number of coronavirus cases for the second consecutive day, with 1,431 new infections. The caseload brings the total number in the country over 110,000, including 450 fatalities.
Recorded infections have soared again over recent weeks, as authorities have relaxed restrictions and resumed schools for in-person instruction.
Dubai, the region’s business hub, recently reopened its airport for international travelers. While coming amid an aggressive testing campaign, the upward trend has raised fears that authorities could reinstate lockdowns in parts of the country that rely heavily on tourism and recreation.