By Shahed Alavi
July 13, 2020
The commander of the Revolutionary Guards has announced that the Guards are ready to “handle” the consequences of the coronavirus epidemic, just days after warnings that poor Iranians could rebel against the regime.
On July 8, Iran’s health minister Saeed Namaki acknowledged that poverty could spark a rebellion. A day later, General Hossein Salami told provincial commanders and the force’s medical division that “with the help of the almighty, we shall do everything in our power to handle the consequences ” of the epidemic. He made no reference to Namaki’s statements.
Iran’s health ministry, health officials and health experts have repeatedly said that Iran’s second wave of coronavirus has been linked to people not social distancing and not following health protocols. They have called for gatherings to be banned, fearing that social distancing might be impossible and therefore pose a serious risk to the public.
Despite this, on July 9, President Rouhani asked the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s social, security and medical committees to draw up guidelines to hold mourning ceremonies for Ashura, the 10th day in the Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram. The day, which falls on August 29 this year, marks the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam and the grandson of Prophet Mohammad.
At the meeting, Rouhani claimed that Iran had successfully reined in the Covid-19 epidemic in provincial centers.
Iran, he said, now had a lower rank among countries of the world with regard to coronavirus cases and fatalities than it had previously. He also claimed that the World Health Organization had praised how Iran had coped and planned for the epidemic. Many other countries had looked to Iran and its experience when forging their own plans for fighting coronavirus, he said.
Alongside these claims, health ministry officials, including deputy health minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei, reiterated their worries about the shortage of manpower needed to cope with Iran’s coronavirus crisis, acknowledging that many people working in the health service had contracted the virus and many others were exhausted by months of hard work. Furthermore, Jan-Babaei acknowledged the epidemic was obviously affecting the financial stability of Iran’s medical centers, which had been badly hit by the impact of the epidemic.
At the same time, the health ministry joined Rouhani and other government officials in insisting that Iran is leading the way in innovations for treating the virus.
Almost every day health ministry officials claim that Iran has pioneered a product or solution to fight coronavirus. On July 8, Reza Malekzadeh, the health minister’s deputy for research and technology, claimed that, as a result of research carried out in Iran, the country would be able to provide “effective treatment” for Covid-19 patients in a critical condition. According to Malekzadeh, joint research by the World Health Organization, Iran and 35 other countries had identified three drugs very effective in treating patients and also for reducing Covid-19 fatalities.
The health ministry claimed that, as of July 9, about 250,000 people in Iran had been infected with coronavirus. However, other figures presented by health officials indicate a far higher rate of infection. For instance, Dr. Alireza Zali, the director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, said that there are estimates that approximately 20 to 25 percent of the residents of Tehran, a number close to two million, have been infected.
Pointing out that the coronavirus outbreak could force the date for the runoff parliamentary elections to be changed, Deputy Interior Minister Jamal Orf said that the decision about whether to hold the elections, scheduled for September 11, rests with the National Coronavirus Taskforce.
For the upcoming academic year, universities will host both in-person and virtual classes, Ali Akbar Haghdoost, deputy health minister for education affairs said. He added that it was possible that new university students will have to wait six months before they can attend universities in person. He said that if it becomes necessary for them to attend in person, students would be able to attend classes for two or three weeks, but the rest of the time teaching would be done remotely.
Restrictions in Place in Some Provinces
Health officials warned that Tehran Municipality’s plan to open up public transport and the resulting overcrowding of the metro has been a major factor fueling the second wave of the coronavirus outbreak in the capital. The Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce demanded the plan be canceled immediately. However, Tehran mayor Pirouz Hanachi said that because there has been an increase in people driving cars, the demand for public transport has fallen sharply, and the municipality has lost $9 million as a result.
In early July there was much discussion about the possibility that new restrictions could be re-imposed in “red” or emergency zones in the country, and even in places where the alert level is serious but not high, although these restrictions would not include quarantine orders, and would not be as strict as previous measures. The National Coronavirus Taskforce and the interior minister must approve any restrictions in provinces or cities. These restrictions may include:
– Wearing masks in indoor or crowded public spaces.
– Lockdown of all educational centers including universities, schools, seminaries, public libraries, technical and vocational workshops, language schools and other training centers.
– Lockdown of all indoor pools and water sports arenas, cinemas, theaters, museums, zoos and playgrounds.
– Lockdown of mosques and worship centers and a ban on Friday Prayers.
– A ban on all social, cultural, mourning and wedding ceremonies and conferences.
– Lockdown on sports clubs and a ban on contact sports including wrestling, karate and judo.
– Lockdown on reception halls, beauty parlors, coffee shops, cafés and teahouses.
Considering that six cities in Kurdistan province are still in a “red” state and four other cities are on alert, restrictions imposed on the province on July 5 were extended for another week, said Hossein Khosh-Eghbal, deputy governor of Kurdistan.
The number of coronavirus cases in the province of Alborz rose and fatalities have shot up, said Azizollah Shahbazi, the province’s deputy governor, who asked the National Coronavirus Taskforce for permission to impose new restrictions.
Reporting that 334 patients were hospitalized in Covid-19 wards in hospitals in Bushehr province, Saeed Kashmiri, president of Bushehr University of Medical Sciences, said that since the number of “red” cities in the province had increased from four to eight, restrictions that were imposed on July 4 were renewed for another week.
Between 200 to 250 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in various cities in Gilan province and every day 50 new patients are admitted to the hospitals, said Arsalan Salari, president of Gilan University of Medical Sciences. He expressed concern that when the summer ends and the university entrance exams are over, a rush of travelers into the province will make the situation worse.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, 192 medical staff in Yazd province have been infected, said Ebrahim Salmani, spokesman for Yazd University of Medical Sciences. Of this number, 30 are doctors and the remainder are nurses, medics and others who work with them, he said.
Although Mashhad has been hit with a second wave of coronavirus cases and fatalities have risen, the shrine of Imam Reza is packed with worshippers, wedding halls are still open, and mourning ceremonies are still being held, according to Shahnaz Ramaram, the president of Mashhad City Council. The only solution, she said, is for the Razavi Khorasan Coronavirus Taskforce to re-impose restrictions on movement within the city.
Restrictions imposed in West Azerbaijan were extended for another week because infections in the province are still on the rise, said Ali Mostafavi, deputy governor of West Azerbaijan.
The number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Isfahan province jumped from 500 to 700 hundred in less than a week, and the rise of infections in the province is very steep, reported Arash Najimi, spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. According to him, in April and May, many patients tended to make quick recoveries and were released from the hospital in a few days but in early July there were more hospitalizations than releases and the number of patients in intensive care units (ICU) increased.
The epidemic in Golestan province was on an upward curve in early July, and Abdolreza Fazel, president of Golestan University of Medical Sciences, said it was likely that the trend would continue for another couple of weeks. He said that the situation in the city of Gonbad Kavous was particularly desperate because it had run out of beds for coronavirus patients and faced shortages of oxygen, ICU beds and ventilators.
The number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Qazvin province rose by 35 percent between July 2 and July 9, and on July 9 alone 68 more people were hospitalized, 21 of them in a critical condition, according to Peyman Namdar, president of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences.
Restrictions imposed in Ilam during the first week of July due to the province being in a “red” or emergency state were extended for another week. People violating these restrictions will face legal action, Ghasem Soleimani Dashtaki, the governor of Ilam, said.
The health ministry continued to announce its statistics for the crisis, figures many people have said are distorted.
In the 24-hour period from July 8 to July 9, 2,079 new coronavirus patients were identified, bringing the total of cases in Iran to 250,458, according to Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the health ministry. Of the new cases, 955 people have been hospitalized and during the same 24-hour period 221 Covid-19 patients died, increasing the total death toll to 12,305.
According to Dr. Sadat Lari, the following provinces are still in a “red” or emergency state: Khuzestan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan and Razavi Khorasan. The provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Alborz, Kerman, Yazd, Zanjan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Hamedan and Ardebil are on alert. She added that, as of July 9, 897,803 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Iran.