April 22, 2020 / 10:38 AM / a month ago

Iran reopens parks, further easing virus-linked curbs

(Reuters) - Iran reopened parks and recreational areas on Wednesday, pressing ahead with measures to ease its coronavirus curbs despite one of the worst outbreaks of the disease in the Middle East.

FILE PHOTO: A man wears a face mask and a protective face shield as he checks a woman's temperature, to let her go inside the mall, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), after shopping malls and bazaars reopened in Tehran, Iran, April 20, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Ali Khara via REUTERS

Ninety four people died from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours raising the overall toll to 5,391, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on state TV on Wednesday. Total recorded cases rose to 85,996.

Central Bank chief Abolnaser Hemmati on Wednesday pressed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $5 billion in emergency funding that Tehran requested last month to fight the outbreak.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration opposes Iran getting access to the funds with no conditions, two sources familiar with the IMF’s deliberations told Reuters last week.

“The International Monetary Fund is like an international fireman and we are all participating in it so that whenever our house catches fire we can contact them and ask for help,” Hemmati said, according to the official government website. “If the neutrality of the International Monetary Fund is damaged, restoring it will be a very difficult task.”

Iran’s daily death toll from the virus has held below 100 since April 14, and parks, gardens and recreational areas reopened across the country on Wednesday, a member of the national headquarters for fighting the coronavirus said, according to the official government website.

Despite warnings by some health officials that a new wave of infections could hit the country, shopping malls and bazaars reopened on Monday, when a ban on inter-city travel was also lifted.

Seeking a balance between protecting public health and shielding an economy battered by sanctions, the government has refrained from wholesale lockdowns of cities like those imposed in many other countries. But it has extended closures of schools and universities and banned cultural, religious and sports gatherings.

Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from a multilateral nuclear deal in 2018 to push for additional curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme, restrict its missile development and end its support for regional proxies.

Iranian officials have said the sanctions have hampered their efforts to deal with the pandemic.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki said on state TV on Wednesday that he had asked the World Health Organization for help to get the sanctions lifted.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Hugh Lawson and John Stonestreet

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