Iran frees 54,000 prisoners to contain Coronavirus spread

A man walks in the city of Tehran, Iran on February 29, 2020. The country is struggling to contain one of the worst outbreaks of Coronavirus. [Reuters]

Iran yesterday temporarily released 54,000 prisoners as it raced to battle the deadly Coronavirus pummeling the Middle Eastern nation.

Already 92 people have died from the virus in Iran with 2,922 infected, although the figures are believed to be under-reported by the State.

Inmates who tested negative for Covid-19 were allowed to leave the country’s already-crowded jails after posting bail, international press reported, quoting Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili.

BBC said those who were sentenced to more than five years were not let out.

The decision to release the inmates was necessitated by mounting international pressure for Iran to deal with the virus, CNN explained.

Cases of infections linked to Iran have been reported in Afghanistan, Canada, Lebanon, Pakistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Several of those cases were of tourists who visited the Iranian city of Qom where several holy sites are located.

Until yesterday, Iran had declined to restrict travel to the sites but will now quarantine those leaving the city with symptoms of the virus.

Iran has recorded the deadliest outbreak of the virus outside China where scientists say it originated in late 2019.

Twenty-three of the 290 members of parliament have tested positive for the virus.

With the vice president, deputy health minister and an adviser to the head of the judiciary also infected, there has been little hope that the country was doing much to contain the virus.

The death of an advisor to Iran supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei further compounded the woes of the country.

Many argue sanctions on the country have hampered the gains of its healthcare and it is currently ill-equipped to deal with the growing number of cases.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday sent a planeload of experts to Iran “to identify transmission dynamics and at-risk populations, as well as provide guidance on strengthening and scaling up the response and readiness efforts”.

“The mission arrived along with a shipment containing medical supplies and protective equipment to support over 15,000 health care workers and enough laboratory kits to test and diagnose nearly 100,000 people,” WHO said in a statement.

Covid-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020.

It is unclear how long the prisoners from the Iranian jails will be free.

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