Tehran, 15 March 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Iran’s coronavirus death toll jumped by 113 within one day, reaching a total of 724, while the number of total infections stood at nearly 14,000, a Health Ministry spokesman said on Sunday.
Most of the new cases were again reported in the capital, Tehran.
President Hassan Rowhani, speaking on Iranian television, rejected rampant speculation about a curfew being put in place due to the virus. “There will not be a quarantine in Iran, neither today nor during the new year’s celebrations,” he said.
Many people are worried that there will be restrictions during the Persian New Year, which runs from March 20 until April 2. The rumours prompted people in Tehran to storm the supermarkets to stock up on items such as mineral water, plastic gloves and laundry detergent.
Across the Middle East, efforts to stop the coronavirus are shaking up daily life, with countries restricting travel, postponing elections and even shutting down large parts of society.
The outbreak has also interrupted religious activities in parts of the region.
Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, was closed on Sunday until further notice, in an extremely rare measure taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The site in Jerusalem is known to Muslims as al-Harem al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
The Islamic religious authority in charge of the site, the Waqf Department, decided to close al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock “as a precautionary measure,” the mosque’s director, Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, said in an emailed statement.
“All gates [to the holy compound] will remain open to worshipers,” he added, meaning that Muslims can pray outside in the open-air courtyard surrounding al-Aqsa Mosque.
The compound houses al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and is worshipped by Muslims as the site from where Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.
It also houses the remnants of the Jewish Biblical Temple and as such it the holiest site in Judaism.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told dpa that the gates to the compound were only briefly closed, but reopened after coordination with Muslim officials.
The number of cases in Israel has increased to around 200. Late Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced wide-reaching measures, including a halt on all recreational activities and the closure of all schools.
As a precautionary measure, Turkey has quarantined roughly 10,000 pilgrims returning from the Muslim Umrah pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, according to Turkish Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu.
They are being held in student apartments in Ankara, as well as the central city of Konya, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, without giving details on how many people were affected.
The president of the Diyanet religious authority, Ali Erbas, said that the final 5,300 returnees were expected to arrive on Sunday.
A Health Ministry statement has said that more than 10,000 quarantine placements have been made available in a total of five dormitories.
Turkey has thus far reported six confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Saudi Arabia had already closed the borders for pilgrimages of foreigners to the cities of Mecca and Medina at the end of February.
Millions of Muslims worldwide travel to Saudi Arabia every year to perform the Umrah, the minor pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time during the year.
The main Muslim pilgrimage, Hajj, is currently to go ahead as planned in late July this year.
Turkish authorities did not say when the pilgrims had entered Saudi Arabia.