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Coronavirus: Iran bans internal travel to avert 'second wave'

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The journalist Abdollah Zavieh was buried at Tehran's Behesht Zahra cemetery on Tuesday

Iran's government has banned internal travel and warned of a "second wave" of its coronavirus disease outbreak, as the official death toll passed 2,000.

Spokesman Ali Rabiei lamented that some people had ignored advice and travelled during the Nowruz new year holidays.

As a result, he said, people would no longer be able to leave their cities and would soon face other restrictions.

Iran's leaders have so far resisted imposing lockdowns despite it being one of the world's worst-hit countries.

They have insisted that all necessary measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 have been taken, despite many Iranians expressing concern.

On Wednesday, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour reported 143 new deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 2,077 since mid-February.

He said the number of confirmed cases had risen by 2,206 to 27,017, although the actual number is believed to be far higher.

Last week, the health ministry had called on Iranians to stay at home during Nowruz instead of visiting their families or going on day trips.

"Unfortunately some Iranians have ignored advice from health ministry officials and travelled during the new year holidays," Mr Rabiei told a televised briefing. "This could cause a second wave of the coronavirus."

He added that security forces would now stop people from travelling between cities and that new regulations were coming soon to help contain the spread of Covid-19.

"We shall tighten our regulations if people do not obey new regulations," he warned.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Ministers wore face masks and gloves during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday

At a cabinet meeting, President Hassan Rouhani said the regulations would be "strict" and would "create difficulties" for Iranians.

He added that the government might have no choice but to close parks for the nature festival of Sizdah Bedar on 1 April, when Iranians traditionally have picnics.

"People have to realise that these are difficult decisions that are being taken to protect people's lives," he explained. "But we have no choice, because the lives of Iranians are important to us."

In other developments in the Middle East on Wednesday: