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Iran reports 157 new virus deaths, imposes intercity ban

Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus (AFP Photo/-, -, -)

Tehran (AFP) - Iran on Thursday announced 157 new deaths from coronavirus, raising the official number of fatalities to 2,234, as it slapped a ban on intercity travel to try to curb the spread.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour also said that 2,389 new cases have been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of declared infections in one of the world's wost-hit countries to 29,406.

"Fortunately, until today 10,457 of those infected have recovered and been discharged from hospitals," he told a news conference.

Jahanpour said that the spread of the new coronavirus and its rate of infection was "growing steadily" in Iran.

The Islamic republic imposed strict new containment measures Thursday, after weeks of public appeals largely failed to prevent hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking to the roads to visit family for the Persian New Year holidays.

"Those who were planning to travel, cancel it right from this moment," said Hossein Zolfaghari, a senior official at Iran's anti-coronavirus committee.

"Those who are out travelling should return home quickly," he added in a televised announcement while announcing details of the new measures.

Zolfaghari said non-residents will not be allowed into cities based on their car plates and drivers' IDs, and violators will be fined and their cars impounded.

"All official and non-official gatherings... are also banned," the official said, without elaborating further.

President Hassan Rouhani said in a cabinet meeting he hoped the "more strict measures" would help to curb the virus.

He added the government was going to ask Iran's supreme leader for permission to draw $1 billion from its national development fund to address "the coronavirus' complexities and issues, especially the medical sector's needs".

The country will also provide businesses which have not laid off workers during the outbreak with low-interest loans, Rouhani said.