TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The typically frenetic streets of Iran's capital, Tehran, have fallen silent and empty over recent days due to the new coronavirus outbreak that's gripped the Islamic Republic.
The now-deserted cafes where waitstaff lounge around with no customers to serve, or the closed bookstores and stadiums, are such a sharp contrast to the way things were.
Iran’s government for days downplayed the effects of the virus. But as cases and deaths from the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes spiked, life changed dramatically on Tehran's main highways, in the narrow corridors of its historical Grand Bazaar and in the public spaces under portraits of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
People began wearing masks, then gloves, then completely disappeared as the Persian New Year, Nowruz, closed down much of the country. The playgrounds and parks, closed to the public, sit empty. The same goes for the cinemas, the bus stations and the malls, including a massive one in Tehran's outskirts now housing a newly built clinic for the virus.
Even many shrines, deeply important to Iran's Shiite faithful, are emptier now, a lone woman wandering through the courtyard of one in Tehran's outskirts, when they should be filled for prayers.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has asked businesses to start to reopen beginning April 11, leading some to worry that another spike in coronavirus cases could loom. But for now, solitary figures cut across Tehran's streets at night as hazmat-suited firefighters spray disinfectant on the streets, trying to fight an enemy that no one can see but all know is there.
Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak