Iran has vowed to protect its people from the economic impact of the coronavirus as the official death toll in the Middle East’s worst-hit country passed 4,500.
The government of President Hassan Rouhani has struggled to contain the outbreak since it announced the country’s first COVID-19 cases nearly two months ago.
It shut schools and universities, postponed major events and imposed a range of other restrictions, but it has stopped short of ordering lockdowns.
The government stressed the importance of striking a balance between the measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus and getting the economy back on track.
The objective was to protect “the health and lives of the population from the coronavirus and its economic and social consequences”, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said at a televised news conference on Monday.
“Intelligent [social] distancing has the same objective … we must ensure the health of society while preserving the social and economic life” of the country, said Rabiei.
“The priority will always be given to health policies,” he said.
Iran’s rulers, who have been struggling to curb the spread of the disease, are concerned that measures to limit public activities could wreck an economy which has already been battered by US sanctions.
“We have to fight against the coronavirus and the virus of sanctions together,” Rabiei said.
Rouhani announced last week that “low-risk” businesses would be allowed to reopen in order to protect Iran’s sanctions-hit economy.
The move took effect on Saturday outside Tehran, and it is set to be implemented in the capital a week later.