Wednesday 2 December 2020
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Iran shuts down again amid fresh COVID-19 wave

The fresh restrictions to stem the outbreak coincided with the rolling of heads among top health officials of Iran, two of whom have resigned

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Politics World Iran shuts down again amid fresh COVID-19 wave

Iran today closed all businesses and put a check on travels by people between its major cities, including the capital of Tehran, as it grappled with the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in West Asia. Top Iranian officials had not admitted initially the gravity of the risk the virus outbreak poses. However, they recently urged the public to follow measures like wearing masks and avoiding unessential travel.

Iran has recorded daily death tolls of above 430 over the past five days. Iran’s Health Ministry said on 21 November that the total number of confirmed cases has risen to above 8,40,000.

The new lockdown measures, which include closing temporarily most businesses, shops, malls and restaurants, cover the following cities of Iran:

  1. Tehran
  2. Mashhad
  3. Isfahan
  4. Shiraz

The Government of Iran has designated nearly 160 towns and cities affected as hot spots as these urban centres have the highest daily per capita positive coronavirus test results.

Today, President of Iran Hassan Rouhani urged people through a televised speech to follow the measures to help “lessen the death toll”. He said that the government planned to supply cash subsidies to Iran’s 30 million poorest people for four months to help them to manage the economic fallout from the new outbreak.

The latest round of restrictions to stem the outbreak coincided with the rolling of heads among top Iranian health officials. At least two officials have resigned or have been forced to put in their papers.

Iranian newspapers said that the deputy health minister in charge of research, Reza Malekzadeh, had resigned from his post in reaction to recent remarks by Minister of Health Saeed Namaki. The minister had said government-led research projects had not been successfully catering for the current needs of the ministry.

In reply, Malekzadeh in his resignation letter pointed out public mismanagement of the virus outbreak by the minister. “The pandemic’s very wrong management that was caused by a lack of consultation and paying attention to warnings from experts has led to a large number of human deaths,” Malekzadeh said in his statement.

News websites based out of Iran said, without providing further details, that Ali Nobakht, an advisor to the health minister, resigned over similar reasons.

In Tehran, the head of the city’s chamber of commerce, Qassem Nodeh, said that the restrictions will lead to the closure of 70% of business in the capital and its surrounding areas.

Manoochehr Nassiri, who runs a lighting shop in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, complained about the closures. “We shop owners don’t know what to do, considering the economic situation of the country,” he said standing outside his shuttered store.

The closures are set to last two weeks but can be automatically extended.

Beginning today, government offices that provide essential public services — including banks, post offices, communications and utilities services — will continue their work with half of the regular number of staff. All other government offices will continue working with one third of their staff.

All schools in the capital will also be closed and required to switch to virtual instruction by Internet. Authorities will also close shrines in Tehran and cancel mass prayers in mosques, though it was not immediately clear if the same restrictions would apply in other cities, including the holy city of Mashhad.

Any travel between the affected cities by private car is also suspended. Public transportation will be available but the use of private cars is banned between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

People who have tested positive for the virus are required to stay at home and can face a roughly $8 cash fine if they appear in public.

Media organisations, construction jobs, agriculture, heavy industry, and services for the elderly and assisted living are largely exempt from the closures.

Iran has avoided the full lockdowns seen in other countries as it struggles to keep its faltering economy alive in the face of crushing U.S. sanctions. President Donald Trump re-imposed sweeping sanctions on the country after withdrawing from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

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