Iranians who are not wearing masks are not going to get state services and the workplaces that fail to comply with the health protocols are going to be shut for a week, President Hassan Rouhani mentioned on Saturday as he launched the new measures to try to curb the coronavirus or COVID-19.

Iran has been fighting the spread of the deadly novel virus with the total number of cases touching 237,878 on Saturday and 148 more deaths taking the nation's death toll to11,408, the Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari mentioned on state television.

Wearing masks becomes mandatory from Sunday in covered public places, Rouhani said on state television after tougher curbs were imposed in cities and towns in five provinces where the outbreak is rising after an easing of lockdowns from mid-April. "Government employees should not serve people who do not wear masks and employees who do not wear them should be considered absentees and sent home," said Rouhani.

COVID-19 in Iran

Iran's national flag
Iran's national flag Reuters

And a government website published photos of Rouhani, who is rarely seen wearing a mask, with a face covering. Those infected have a "religious duty" to notify others, Rouhani said, adding: "Keeping your infection a secret violates the rights of other people". The government has been trying to convince a reluctant public to accept masks and a week-long campaign by state television has been warning viewers that "Corona is not a joke".

One TV presenter at the end of every newscast puts on her mask and says: "There is no one in my immediate three metres, but I wear a mask outside the studio. You, too, wear one." State media reported on Saturday that 19 Iranian football players from the national Esteghlal and Foolad Khuzestan clubs had tested positive for the coronavirus.

And five Iranian members of parliament have also tested positive, the semi-official Fars news agency said. Meanwhile, Iran's armed forces have reduced their basic combat training to a month because of the increased spread.

(With agency inputs)