The fifth wave of coronavirus infections in Iran has yet to reach its projected peak. But deaths from Covid-19 are already at record heights, with the number of officially-recorded deaths standing at around 400 every day.
Hospitals are at capacity, and provincial officials say that there is no more room for new patients – not even in the corridors. Pictures posted on social media show some patients being vaccinated or connected to IV drips outside the entrances.
Dr. Alireza Zali, the director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, broke rank on Friday, August 6 to tell Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) that he and colleagues had requested a total lockdown, but it had been rejected by higher-ups.
Dr. Zali said he didn’t believe the significance of this “had really been understood.” He added: “We believe that an effective lockdown is a total one. Anything temporary or partial will not work.”
The Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce wants to see social activities drastically pared back, with only essential activities like the provision of food, medicine and emergency services allowed. “Even public transport must stop,” he said.
Dr. Zali also called for the government to improve contact tracing of Covid-19 patients, and to speed up its sluggish Covid-19 vaccination drive.
Meanwhile Dr. Masoud Mardani, member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, said the situation of Iran’s hospitals was “deplorable”. He, too, demanded a nationwide lockdown. “If it’s going to be something like the recent six-day measures, it’s not going to be worth a penny,” he said.
According to the latest figures announced by the Health Ministry, in the 24 hours before noon on Thursday, August 5, a total of 434 people were recorded as having lost their lives to Covid-19.
Health experts, statisticians and government officials have repeatedly stated over the past 12 months that the real Covid-19 death toll for Iran is likely to be around 1.5 times to double the official figure.
No Lessons Learned After Last Year’s Muharram Disaster
The Persian calendar month of Muharram, when Shia Muslims attend vast mourning gatherings for the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the third Shia imam in 680 AD, is set to get under way on August 10.
Last year strict health protocols were imposed on the biggest public events. But despite the fact that Iran’s Covid-19 figures are worse than this time last year, a multitude of officials are adamant that the ceremonies must still go ahead.
“In such conditions,” Dr. Mardani reported, “mourning ceremonies and processions must not take place. People should take part virtually, or watch it on TV, so that this disease will not spread.”
Nevertheless on Friday, August 6, the National Coronavirus Taskforce was duty-bound to announce the state “guidelines” for 2021’s Muharram mourning events.
The rules stated that closed event spaces must not be filled to more than a quarter capacity, ceremonies must not continue past 2am, and participants should use hand sanitizer or disinfectants before attending.
In fact, these were exactly the same guidelines that were put in place last year, when pictures and videos showed people flouting the rules at tightly-packed ceremonies all over Iran. In the weeks that followed, new coronavirus infections surged.
Ominously, this week Saeed Mahdavi, director-general of the Islamic Development Bureau in Gilan, echoed the exact sentiments disastrously voiced by President Hassan Rouhani last year. “Muharram ceremonies must not be shut down,” he said – adding the “enemy” was trying to create a dichotomy between health and religion.