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Coronavirus: Iran temporarily releases prisoners over virus fears

Iran has reported 43 new deaths and 595 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours
Iranian women wear protective masks to prevent contracting coronavirus, as they walk in the street in Tehran, 25 February (Reuters)

Iranian authorities have temporarily freed around 70,000 prisoners in a bid to contain and combat the deadly coronavirus in Iranian jails, the country’s head of the judiciary said on Monday.

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Iran has recorded 43 new deaths and 595 new infections of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, bringing the total of infected people to 7,161 and death toll to 237 since February, the ministry of health reported.

Ebrahim Raisi, the chief justice of Iran, announced the temporary release of prisoners on Monday, saying the decision will be carried out “to the point where it doesn't create insecurity in society.”

Raisi did not elaborate on when the released detainees would have to return to prison.

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, spread swiftly in Iran and became the deadliest outbreak outside China's Hubei province, where the virus originated in the city of Wuhan.

Italy has now officially recorded more deaths than Iran. 

Iranian officials are concerned about the spread of the virus during the national Nowruz holiday, when Iranians celebrate their New Year, on 20 March.

Nowruz attracts thousands of people to the Caspian Sea, and other parts of the country, for family holidays.

Iranian officials said that heavy traffic on roads to the Caspian Sea were seen, despite warnings by the health ministry for Iranians to stay home and not travel between provinces.

On Sunday, IranAir announced the suspension of all its flights to Europe until further notice, a decision apparently linked to a ban on the carrier's planes from entering European airspace.

On Saturday, COVID-19 claimed the life of Fatemeh Rahbar, 55, an Iranian conservative MP from the capital Tehran, who was elected in last month's general election.