COVID-19: Iran's Rohani Says New Tracking System Could Lead To Mosque Reopenings; Pakistan Extends Suspension Of International Flights
By RFE/RL April 26, 2020
The global death toll from the coronavirus is more than 205,000 with nearly 3 million infections confirmed, causing mass disruptions as governments continue to try to slow the spread of the new respiratory illness.
Here's a roundup of COVID-19 developments in RFE/RL's broadcast regions.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on April 26 that health officials are launching a color-based system to classify COVID-19 risk all over the country in a move that could pave the way for the opening of religious sites and mass prayers in less-affected parts of Iran.
Rohani said on April 26 that the Health Ministry will designate regions as "red," "yellow," or "white," and mosques and shrines may be reopened in areas that remain "white" for a period of two weeks, he said.
Rohani's announcement came shortly before a Health Ministry spokesman said total cases had reached 90,481 in Iran. The spokesman also said 60 new deaths put the official death toll at 5,710.
"This is the first step in opening up religious sites that are of great interest to the people, and God willing, we hope that the white areas will expand day by day and we will have better conditions while the people observe" measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, he said at a meeting of Iran's national headquarters to fight the pandemic, according to Iranian state Press TV.
Activities in each region will be restricted according to the ratings, the president said, signaling the latest step in a reopening of Iranian business and social affairs that began about two weeks ago.
The president said some 127 of Iran's 324 or so counties are currently in the least-affected category.
Many health and religious experts have encouraged the world's Muslims during the current holy month of Ramadan to avoid gatherings to maintain the physical distancing that they say is vital to slowing the global pandemic.
Iran has been the Middle East's hardest-hit country by the coronavirus.
But the official rate of new cases has been falling since March 30, with some 1,134 new cases reported on April 25.
Iranian officials were slow to confirm the outbreak there despite mounting indications of COVID-19 in mid-February, and some experts believe Iran's COVID-19 numbers are considerably higher than have been acknowledged.
The official rate of new cases has been falling since March 30, with some 1,134 new cases reported on April 25.
Authorities in the clerically led country have been ushering in a phased reopening since April 11 of some businesses, along with an easing of domestic travel restrictions.
Schools, universities, mosques and shrines, cinemas, and sports venues all currently remain closed.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur on April 26 urged Iranians to respect health and physical-distancing measures, despite a slowing in the COVID-19 death toll.
Rohani reportedly warned on April 26 that Iranians can expect major disturbances to continue throughout the year as a result of the pandemic.
Alireza Zali, the anti-COVID-19 coordinator for the capital, said on April 25 that "hasty openings" could "create new waves of sickness in Tehran and complicate efforts to bring the epidemic under control."
Iran was already reeling economically before the pandemic from American sanctions reimposed and tightened after U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 abandoned a major international deal that exchanged relief from international sanctions for restrictions on Iran's nuclear program.
An Iranian government source was quoted by a local daily on April 26 as saying the country has increased its allowance of imported wheat by around 3 million tons.
Authorities in Pakistan have extended the suspension of international flights for a further two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The suspension of international flight operations had been due to end in early May but has now been "extended up to May 15," government aviation division spokesperson Abdul Sattar Khokhar said.
The move came as health officials warned that tens of thousands of people in Pakistan are ignoring advice to stay home during the holy month of Ramadan, raising fears that the coronavirus pandemic will spread further.
Pakistan has been divided over whether to ease coronavirus restrictions during Ramadan, which began in the country on the evening of April 24.
The federal government in Islamabad has caved to pressure from Islamic clerics to let them lead prayers.
But the southern province of Sindh has announced that no religious gatherings can be held there amid grim warnings by medical workers.
Thousands of people ignored the advice to stay home during the weekend, flocking to mosques and markets on April 25. Many people were seen without face masks and were ignoring social-distancing guidelines.
President Arif Alvi has asked prayer leaders not to allow people over 50 years old into mosques, as agreed by the government and clerics in a 20-point plan to hold congregational prayers during Ramadan.
Doctors warn that the decision to allow gatherings could unleash an uncontrollable wave of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Pakistani Medical Association says the country is still at least six weeks away from a peak of the coronavirus spread.
Meanwhile, frontline health workers in Pakistan's largest province, Punjab, are carrying out sit-in protests against the poor quality of their personal protection equipment as they try to care for people stricken by the deadly coronavirus.
Salman Haseeb Chaudhry, president of Punjab's provincial chapter of the Young Doctor's Association, said on April 26 that substandard equipment is leading to an increasing number of health professionals contracting COVID-19.
Chaudhry said an alliance of health workers has formed, including nurses and paramedics, to demand greater protection.
Chaudhry said 100 health professionals in Pakistan had tested positive for coronavirus during the previous 24 hours.
Pakistan on April 26 had confirmed a total of 12,723 cases of the virus with 269 deaths. The true number of infections is thought to be much higher.
Pakistan has been recording a steady daily increase of about 750 positive cases during the past week. Testing is still low with barely 6,800 people tested per day in a country of 220 million people.
Pakistan has struggled to get protective equipment to its health professionals. Doctors in the southwestern province of Baluchistan who protested against the shortage of adequate protective equipment were detained by authorities earlier in April. They were freed within hours.
Pakistan's government has increased its stocks of protective equipment after receiving planeloads of supplies from China and stepping up local production.
Russia on April 26 reported its largest daily rise in coronavirus infections, prompting a warning from the head of a consumer-health body that Russians should stay vigilant during upcoming May holidays.
A record 6,361 new infections were reported over the previous 24 hours, one day after health officials announced the country's worst daily death toll from coronavirus with 66 fatalities. More than half of those deaths were in Moscow.
According to a global database maintained by Johns Hopkins University, 80,949 people have been infected by coronavirus in Russia and 747 people have died.
Russia's official death toll from the pandemic is very low compared to Western Europe and the United States, fueling questions about whether fatalities are being artificially lowered by ascribing them to other causes, such as pneumonia or heart ailments.
On April 26, the Russian Orthodox Church cited double pneumonia as the cause of death of a 54-year-old priest in western Russia in what appeared to be a COVID-19 case.
Anna Popova, head of the state consumer protection agency Rospotrebnadzor, told state television on April 26 that the country had so far avoided a major spike but could keep that up "if only we don't give up during the holidays," Reuters reported.
Russia has two shortened work weeks in early May with state holidays to mark Spring And Labor Day on May 1 and Victory Day over Nazi Germany on May 9.
"That's the biggest risk today," Popova added.
Meanwhile, Dmitry Novikov, a member of Russia's lower house of parliament, or Duma, said he has been infected with COVID-19.
Novikov is the second Communist Duma deputy to catch the virus after Leonid Kalashnikov, who is in a hospital with a fever.
Facing a projected 6 percent decline in the Russian GDP this year, the government panel tasked with countering the fallout from the coronavirus has instructed relevant departments to submit proposals on the gradual lifting of restrictions on certain organizations and individual entrepreneurs, Interfax reported.
The Labor Ministry, the Economic Development Ministry, the consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, and the Health Ministry have until April 30 to fulfill the instruction, which was published on the government's website.
Tajikistan is suspending games of the country's 10-team soccer league until May 10 amid a series of fresh coronavirus restrictions imposed by the government.
Tajikistan's soccer federation said on April 26 that the suspension of league games will take effect on April 27.
Why Numbers Don't Tell The Full Story
A daily compilation of global coronavirus cases by Johns Hopkins University is currently the most comprehensive in the world, but it relies on information provided by governments.
In many countries, there are restrictions on releasing such information or reasons why the full story might not want to be told.
The methodology, immediacy, transparency, and quality of this data can vary dramatically country by country.
Games scheduled to take place on April 26 were set to go ahead without any spectators, just like other matches staged in Tajikistan while the pandemic has been spreading around the world.
Tajikistan has yet to acknowledge that it has any cases of the coronavirus. That has prompted suspicions that authorities in Dushanbe are not accurately reporting information about the pandemic in their country.
Other former Soviet republics in Central Asia have confirmed hundreds of cases.
On April 25, Tajikistan's government decided to close schools for two weeks. It also imposed a ban on exports of grain in what the government said was an effort to ensure there is an adequate domestic supply.
Tajikistan's soccer league has attracted international attention in recent weeks as one of the only countries that has pushed ahead with its soccer season.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, RBK, Novaya Gazeta, Interfax, and TASS
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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