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|A worker cleans a bus in the Iranian capital Tehran as part of efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Photo: AFP/ATTA KENARE)|
An additional 143 infections were detected over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of cases to 388, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
It is the highest number of new cases for a single day since Iran announced its first confirmed infections on Feb 19 in the Shi'ite shrine city of Qom.
Among the new cases, 64 were in the capital Tehran, while the number of provinces hit by the outbreak rose to 24, Jahanpour said.
One of Iran's seven vice presidents, Massoumeh Ebtekar, and deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi are among several senior officials who have been infected.
On Friday, Iran's health minister announced on state TV that all schools in Iran will close for three days starting from Saturday.
"Based on assessments it was felt that there was a need for closing all the schools in the country and for this reason all the schools in the country will be closed for three days starting from tomorrow," Health Minister Saeed Namaki said.
FRIDAY PRAYERS CANCELLED
The outbreak prompted authorities to call off Friday prayers in the capitals of 23 of Iran's 31 provinces, including Tehran and the Shi'ite Muslim holy cities of Qom and Mashhad as well as some other infected areas, state TV reported.
Iran's state news agency IRNA said it had banned Chinese citizens from entering.
Iran has also imposed some restrictions on access to shrines in Qom and Mashhad, Namaki told state TV, adding that visitors to the holy sites should "pray and leave". "Gatherings are not allowed inside the shrines," he said.
Iranian authorities said hundreds of people initially suspected of having the virus had tested negative and been discharged from hospital.
Authorities including President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran had no plans to quarantine any cities or districts, despite the sharp rise in numbers in a short time.
The government extended the closure of universities and cinemas and a temporary ban on cultural, sports events and conferences for another week.
The death rate among confirmed cases of the virus has been running at around 10 per cent in Iran compared to around 3 per cent elsewhere. Iran only announced its first infections and deaths from the coronavirus on Feb 19.
Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization's emergencies programme, said in Geneva that "the most likely factor is obviously this disease came unseen and undetected into Iran; the extent of infection may be broader than we think".
Ryan said it appeared that, so far, more severe cases had been detected, but that more milder cases would be detected in future: "I don't suspect it has anything to do with clinical care, more to do with surveillance."
Iran's Foreign Ministry said "some 20,000 coronavirus test kits and some other material" would be delivered to the country from China by Iran's Mahan Air flight on Friday.