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Special Features

Schools Reopen in Iran Despite Covid-19 Safety Fears

November 8, 2021
Pouyan Khoshhal
6 min read
Schools Reopen in Iran Despite Covid-19 Safety Fears

Schools and universities across Iran have begun reopening in a staggered manner, on a schedule first announced last month. By November 21, all classes are due to be being held in person again.

Earlier officials said that once back, all students would have to take a coronavirus test every week. but now the Ministry of Education has said it is enough for schools to comply with social distancing rules and have proper ventilation.

On the morning of Saturday, November 6, 2.5 million teenagers in grades 10, 11 and 12 duly left home for class. Two weeks from now, primary school students and high school students in grades 7 to 9 will join them. A number of the smallest, lowest-capacity sites – typically in rural areas – have already fully reopened.

The National Coronavirus Taskforce, the Ministry of Education and the Health Ministry have all emphasized that there is are “no reason” to keep schools closed any longer, citing the recent speeding-up of Iran’s domestic vaccination drive. But not all their individual members are in accord: Dr. Payam Tabarsi, a member of the Taskforce’s Scientific Committee and head of infectious diseases at Tehran’s Masih Daneshvari Hospital, said that it would have been better if in-person classes began in late January.

The National Coronavirus Taskforce decided that schools with fewer students could start in-person classes on September 23, the start of the school year in Iran. Khatereh, a primary school teacher in Rasht, the capital of Gilan province, told IranWire that there were just five students in her class, but she then got came down with Covid-19 nonetheless.

“Compliance with the Health Ministry’s health guidelines is not that difficult,” she said, “but it is problematic in schools. You can social-distance but it’s difficult for the students, who are just kids, to tolerate masks for several hours. The result is what happened to me; I got infected by one of the students.”

“Student vaccination is not a precondition for attending in-person classes,” announced Alireza Kamarei, spokesman for the Education Ministry, this month. “What the Education Ministry’s schools must comply with are social distancing and proper ventilation.” But Khatereh says some of the classes in her school do not have a ventilation system at all.

“My colleagues say some of the parents think their children don’t need to wear masks because they’ve been vaccinated,” she added. “They haven’t been adequately informed… I have no doubt that [non-implementation of the rules] is going to put both the education and health systems back under enormous pressure.”

A 14 Percent Jump in Two Days?

There are more than 107,000 schools in Iran now due to have reopened by November 22, with some 15 million students expected back through the school gates. The Health Ministry’s main justification for allowing this was that as of November 1, according to the Health Ministry, 88 percent of young Iranians aged between 12 and 18 had received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine. The government has also claimed 90 percent of school staff across the country have been vaccinated.

However, one of the reasons many health experts are opposed to schools reopening is they believe these figures to have been doctored. According to the Health Ministry, 74 percent of school-age children had been vaccinated as of October 30. But then, just two days later, the Education Ministry announced the proportion had reached 88 percent. Such a fantastic increase in just two days has reinforced suspicion instead of inspiring confidence.

Mohammad Reza Mahboubfar, a health expert and researcher in Tehran, told IranWire: “The Health Ministry insists that only 23 percent of people are vaccine-hesitant, but field studies put it at around 40 percent. If the Ministry’s claim that 77 percent of people have been vaccinated is true, how are we supposed to believe that encompasses 90 percent of students?

“Independent experts have asked the government to allow TV cameras into hospital Covid-19 wards to ask the patients: Had they been vaccinated? If so, how many doses had they received? This is the way to establish how effective vaccination has been, not falsified statistics.”

He added that despite the order to reopen schools, attendance since Saturday appeared to have been patchy. “Since Saturday morning I’ve been gathering data on attendance. What is clear is the reopening has not been well-received, by parents or students. In some parts of the country, the numbers coming in can be counted on your fingers. Families are afraid, and this fear is going to grow with time.”

Sinopharm for Students?

One of the other causes of concern for doctors is the efficacy of vaccines being dished out to school pupils. In general, studies have shown it takes at least two weeks for a vaccine to take effect after being administered. Fewer than 50 percent of youngsters have so far received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine, while some only receiving their first very recently, raising fears they could still infect other members of their family and community.

What’s more, Iranian officials have designated the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine for young people aged between 12 to 18. But according to a study by the Health Policy Research Center, affiliated with the Shiraz University of Medical Science, the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing cross-infection stands at a mere five percent.

An epidemiologist in Iran, who asked not to be named, told IranWire: “Many countries around the world that are vaccinating students under 18 years of age have chosen vaccines endorsed by the World Health Organization. In Iran, however, they have decided to inoculate students with Sinopharm. The issue is that this has not been internationally endorsed for use in people of this age cohort.”

Official Coronavirus Statistics

According to the Health Ministry’s weekly statistics, a total of 1,046 patients are known to have lost their lives to Covid-19 in the week ending November 4. With 177 deaths, October 31 had the highest officially-recorded number of fatalities for the week.


Schools Reopen in Iran Despite Covid-19 Safety Fears

At the week’s end, 3,756 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 91,746,932.


Schools Reopen in Iran Despite Covid-19 Safety Fears

There are currently 29 Iranian cities on red alert for coronavirus transmission. Another 112 are rated orange and 221 are yellow. Currently 86 cities in Iran are on “blue” alert.


Related coverage:

Tehran Officials: Traffic Curfews Did Nothing to Stop Covid-19

Medical Student’s Death Sparks Fresh Fears Over Working Conditions

Unvaccinated Iranians Locked Out of Office Reopenings

Friday Prayers Returns to Tehran Despite Sixth Coronavirus Wave

Iranian Study Casts More Doubt on Sinopharm Vaccine

Resistance as Iranian Government Unveils 'Vaccine Passports'

With Covid-19 Still Raging, Iran Switches to Vaccinating Children

Iranian Anti-Vaxxer Protests Dismissed as Over-18s Inoculations Begin

Anti-Vaxxers Invoke Ghasem Soleimani at Tehran Protest

Lies, Misinformation and Makeshift Graves: A Chronology of Coronavirus in Iran


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