In Iran a project entitled “Smart Covid Management” project is under way, purporting to lay the foundations for a post-pandemic return to normal life. Since February 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak in Iran was confirmed, many such initiatives have been launched in a bid to control the pandemic (quite often prefaced with the word “smart”), including night-time curfews and the quarantining of cities based on color-coded alert levels.
“Smart Covid Management” started on December 13. It is due to take place in five phases, one a week, vaccinated people being let into government offices and gradually extending this to urban transportation, businesses, suburban and intercity transportation, and scientific and educational institutions.
“The Smart Covid Management project is like others being carried out in countries around the world,” physician and political analyst Dr. Alan Tofighi told IranWire. “Instead of indiscriminately imposing restrictions on everybody’s movement, they use QR codes to enable vaccinated people, who enjoy relative immunity to the virus, to return to their normal life and work.”
Those who are not vaccinated or are infected with coronavirus must remain in quarantine and cannot move freely. But according to Hossein Ghasemi, secretary of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Security and Social Committee, 15 percent of Iranians are strongly opposed to vaccination.
In the long term, the aim is to vaccinate 100 percent of Iranians. This, Dr. Tofighi says, will be extremely difficult: “Nowhere in the world has this been done. In Iran, according to the Ministry of Health, only around 50 million have received both doses.”
In recent weeks, Iranian officials have offered myriad details about how this project is going to work. If a government employee cannot produce a QR code or a negative PCR test result, it appears, they will not be able to enter the workplace and their wages will be cut if the absence drags on. The responsibility for enforcing this rule rests with the directors of government organizations.
Same Old Story?
This is not the new plan it purports to be, and its success is far from assured. On October 19, it was announced that in Tehran and other big cities, all government employees of the state had to return to their offices in person.
“I personally don’t believe this policy is going to be a success,” Nejat Bahrami, a political activist, analyst and former official of the Education Ministry, told IranWire at the time. “The first issue is corruption within Iran’s bureaucracy. A black market within the system always emerges. It’s very easy to get hold of a vaccination certificate, on paper or in digital form, regardless of whether or not you’ve really had a jab. If this order by the Department of Administration and Employment Affairs is seriously enforced, many will be driven to obtain fake documents.”
More than 90 percent of government employees are also tenured civil servants, Bahrami added, “and you cannot expel tenured civil servants. The disciplinary regulations are very clear and have little bearing on employees’ behavior. Imagine if a large number refused to get vaccinated and weren’t allowed into the office. In this case it’s the government that will lose out, not the employees. There’s no rule allows for their pay to be stopped, except in very extreme situations, like their having committed a crime that could result in dismissal from government service.”
In the later phases of the Smart Covid Management project, the same restrictions will apply to public transport and air travel: Iranians will only be able to board a plane, bus or train if they can present a QR code, or else their vaccination ID number, which can be checked against the government’s Omid database. The same will apply to buying cinema tickets, and if all phases of the project take effect, to entering supermarkets and shopping centers.
Perfect on Paper
The project, says Dr. Tofighi, is perfect on paper but not in practice: “Everything in the Islamic Republic looks good on paper, and when government officials announce it on TV and in the media. Later, they doctor the figures to ‘show’ a project has been successful. Unfortunately, the record shows that in practice the Islamic Republic fail to fulfil its commitments.”
Even if there were no administrative obstacles to this latest “Smart” project, Dr. Tofighi says, “We must ask officials whether the necessary infrastructure, including hardware, software and also manpower, to meet the demand for these QR codes exists.
“Service providers are also an important part of this project. In some countries, medical staff have to get vaccinated because they provide services to people and people must be confident they will not get infected if they go to medical centers.
“For the ‘Smart’ project to prevent new surges of coronavirus, it must be carried out meticulously, have the required infrastructure and be underpinned by legislation, and it must be carried out by fully committed administrators and supervisors.”
Official Coronavirus Statistics
According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 422 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending December 16. With 79 deaths, December 10 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.
At the week’s end, 2,975 Covid-19 patients in Iran were being treated in ICUs. According to the Health Ministry, at the time of writing the total number of vaccine doses injected had reached 112,273,684.
There are currently no Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Of the rest, 8 are rated orange and 119 are yellow. Currently 321 cities in Iran are on “blue” alert.