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Iran Announces 63 New Coronavirus Deaths, Amid Concern Over Jailed Foreign Nationals

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wearing a protective mask during a cabinet meeting in Tehran.

Iran says it has reported 63 new deaths from the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 354.

Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said on March 11 that 958 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 were identified in the country, bringing the total number of cases to 9,000.

Iran is the hardest-hit country in the Middle East by the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 118,000 people globally and killed nearly 4,300.

Amid reports that the disease has spread inside Iranian prisons, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo late on March 10 called on Iran to immediately release on humanitarian grounds all Americans "unjustly" imprisoned in the country.

“The United States will hold the Iranian regime directly responsible for any American deaths. Our response will be decisive,” Pompeo warned in a statement.

Iran’s judiciary says it has temporarily released 70,000 people held in Iranian prisons in an attempt to contain the outbreak.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, on March 10 cited overcrowding, poor nutrition, and lack of hygiene as serious concerns.

“A number of dual and foreign nationals are at real risk if they have not got [coronavirus]. They are really fearful of their conditions,” Rehman told reporters in Geneva.

Iranian authorities have arrested dozens of foreigners and dual citizens over recent years, mostly on espionage charges.

Rights activists have accused Iranian authorities of arresting them to try to win concessions from other countries -- a charge dismissed by Tehran.

The biggest number of coronavirus infections in Iran have been recorded in the capital, Tehran.

Authorities have closed schools and universities across Iran, suspended major cultural and sporting events, and reduced working hours across the country to slow the contagion.

They also resorted to shutting hotels and other tourist accommodation in a bid to discourage travel.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on March 10 announced that medical staff who die combating the disease will be recognized as “martyrs.”

The decision comes amid a propaganda campaign trying to link the fight against the virus to the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s,

The families of those designated martyrs, typically from the security forces, receive financial aid and other benefits from the state.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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