DUBAI (Reuters) - Government employees went back to work in Iran on Saturday and President Hassan Rouhani said mosques would resume daily prayers across the country, even though some areas are seeing high levels of coronavirus infections.
Rouhani also said on state television that shopping malls would be able to stay open beyond the 6 p.m. closing time imposed as part of the lockdown, a further step in the government’s plans to steadily ease the curbs.
“Doors to mosques across the country will open to the public for daily prayers,” Rouhani said, adding that worshippers should observe social distancing and other health protocols. He did not say when mosques would reopen.
Authorities are taking tougher measures to ensure health regulations are observed, such as barring people from buses and metro trains if they do not wear face masks, Iranian media reported.
Alireza Zali, head of the government-led Coronavirus Taskforce of Tehran, told state TV the situation in the capital was “still not favorable,” adding that the gradual easing of curbs should be accompanied by a “more serious observance” of the rules.
The worst-affected country in the Middle East, Iran has reported 148,950 infections and 7,734 deaths from COVID-19, according to the latest health ministry data.
A ministry spokesman said on Saturday that the southwestern province of Khuzestan was still classified as “red” due to the higher number of infections and deaths, while seven other provinces were at risk.
The health ministry has divided the country into white, yellow and red areas based on the number of cases and fatalities.
Meanwhile, the semi-official Tasnim news agency said Omid Noorafkan, 23, a professional footballer who plays for the Iranian club Sepahan, had tested positive for the virus. It did not give further details about his condition.
Editing by Frances Kerry and Helen Popper