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Iranian army soldiers work in a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the army at the international exhibition centre in northern Tehran on March 26. Image Credit: AP

Tehran: Iran on Sunday said that 123 more people had died of the novel coronavirus, raising the country’s official death toll to 2,640.

A health ministry spokesman told a news conference that 2,901 more cases had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing total infections to 38,309.

“Fortunately 12,391 of those who had been hospitalised have now recovered and returned to their families,” he added, while 3,467 were in a “critical” condition.

Iran’s president on Sunday lashed out at criticism of its lagging response to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, saying the government has to weigh economic concerns as it takes measures to contain the pandemic.

Hassan Rouhani said authorities had to consider the effect of mass quarantine efforts on Iran’s beleaguered economy, which is under heavy US sanctions. It’s a dilemma playing out across the globe, as leaders struggle to strike a balance between restricting human contact and keeping their economies from crashing.

“Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting. “We must put these principles together to reach a final decision.”

This came as Saudi Arabia shut down entry and exit into the Jeddah governorate and brought forward a curfew there to begin at 3pm local time, state news agency SPA said on Sunday.

The curfew in Jeddah previously began at 7pm Saudi Arabia applied the same measures to Riyadh, Mecca and Medina last week.

Oman cases rise

Oman Sunday recorded 15 new cases of the novel coronavirus, raising the country’s infection total to 167. The latest patients are eight linked to travel and five others who were in touch with other patients, the Health Ministry said in an update without disclosing the nationalities of the infected. The two other cases are being investigated. Of the overall 167 cases, 23 have recovered, the ministry added, according to Oman’s official news agency. Omani authorities have taken a series of precautions to prevent the spread of the highly infectious ailment in the country.

Bahrain slams Qatar

Meanwhile, Bahrain has demanded Qatar stop meddling in its plan to repatriate its citizens stranded abroad due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

The Bahraini response came after Qatar said late Saturday that 31 Bahraini nationals had arrived in Doha aboard a Qatari flight from Iran and that Manama had refused to facilitate their return home.

Bahrain, locked in a years-long row with Qatar, denied Doha’s allegation and accused it of operating flights that do not comply with the anti-virus hygenic rules.

“The Qatari authorities have to stop interfering in [repatriation] arrangements through operating commercial flights that expose all passengers on those flights to health perils resulting from the outbreak of the coronavirus,” Bahrain’s governmental National Communication Centre said.

“The Qatari authorities should follow the precautionary rules and measures necessary to protect health and safety of passengers, aircraft crews and staff of different airports in line with the International Air Transport Association systems,” it added, according to Bahrain’s news agency BNA.

The Bahrainis stranded in Doha, will be brought back home later Sunday on a flight “complying with the necessary medical precautions,” the centre said.

Also, Lebanon reported two deaths and 26 new cases while the number of cases in Morocco grew by 35 and in Iraq by 41.