July 2: 

Panic at Local Level as Covid-19 Cases Soar in Provinces

It seems President Rouhani has a special interest in the term “smart” during the pandemic. Despite evidence that misguided government policy was lead to a second deadly wave of coronavirus in Iran, he told a meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce on Thursday, July 2, that at its next meeting, the taskforce would “review and approve…executive and effective methods of monitoring instructions and smart physical distancing".

It came as even the health ministry's official spokeswoman reported a rise in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in most Iranian provinces. In the past 24 hours, said Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, some 2,652 new cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in Iran, bringing the total  to 232,863, while another 148 deaths meant the total death toll now stood at 11,106. The provinces of Khuzestan, Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Razavi Khorasan and Kermanshah were assessed as “red” risk zones.

But health practicioners on the ground warned other provinces, too, needed the health ministry's urgent attention. According to Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, in the 24 hours leading up to July 2 alone the number of Covid-19 cases in Tehran increased by 7.9 percent and 520 new patients were hospitalized in common wards and ICUs in Tehran province. Due to this increase, he said, a letter had been sent to the National Coronavirus Taskforce asking for a week of strict restrictions in Tehran.

The governor of the small Ilam province, Ghasem Soleimani Dashtaki, said five cities in his purview were in a "red" state and the number of coronavirus cases in Ilan had increased by 40 percent in the past 11 days. As such restrictions were re-imposed in the province, including reducing office hours and the mandatory wearing of masks in government offices

The deputy governor of Lorestan, Mahmoud Samini, similarly reported that in most cities of theprovince the situation had become “red” and if the surge continued, the province would lack the necessary facilities and medication to cope. The president of Lorestan University of Medical Sciences, Mohammad Reza Nikbakht, also issued an urgent call for more ICU beds and ventilators.

Mehdi Tabatabai, vice president of Zahedan University of Medical Sciences, warned that hospital wards in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan were filled to capacity and this had alarmed provincial health officials, warning that the situation could still become even more critical. Ghasem Miri, a vice president of the university, reported that one-third of all coronavirus patients in Sistan and Baluchistan were being hospitalized in ICU wards. This situation started a few weeks ago, he said, and meant that many patients were going to hospital when it was already too late.

Golestan’s governor Hadi Haghshenas said more than 50 percent of people in the city of Gorgon had now been infected with coronavirus – an assessment that flies in the face of the official figures. In Isfahan province, Arash Najimi, a spokesman for Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, reported that 106 new patients with acute Covid-19 symptoms had been hospitalized and warned that  Isfahan might return to the “red” state in the coming days. He pointed out, however, that only the National Coronavirus Taskforce can impose quarantines.

Other reports of spiralling cases of Covid-19 came from authorities in Buhshehr, Gilan and Mashhad - where people were asked to avoid unnecessary travel to the capital. It came on the same day as deputy health minister Ghasem Jan Babaei mused that Iran really should worry about “white” provinces more since the low risk-rating would mean the epidemic has not yet peaked there. It was not clear exactly what Jan-Babaei meant because, according to official figures, there were no “white” provinces in Iran. 

 

July 3: 

Health officials worry that coronavirus would spread to villages and rural areas

Health officials expressed fears that coronavirus was moving towards villages: a serious cause for concern, as handling the epidemic in the rural areas was likely to be markedly more difficult than in more developed zones.

At the same time, the head of Iran’s Administrative and Recruitment Affairs Organization, Jamshid Ansari, insisted that people were in need of government services and, therefore, the government would not agree to close its offices during the crisis. Ansari added that working remotely would be possible when the infrastructure for it was in place. For the time being, any reduction of in-person presence at government offices would only be considered on a case-by-case basis, and only if the situation became as critical as it was in March.

Separately, concerns were raised for the welfare of two other types of frontline workers aside from medical staff: military officers and journalists. In response to the first, Gholamreza Rahimipour, an officer with the General Staff of the Armed Forces, claimed that compared to the general population, the infection rate among soldiers was still very low because of the health protocols observed in military barracks. But Mohammad Reza Mahboub-Far, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, said most reporters were in danger of getting infected because they have to attend press conferences and use public transport, and generally have no health insurance.

In the 24 hours leading to July 3, 2,566 new coronavirus cases were identified of whom 1,483 were hospitalized, bringing the official total of infections since the pandemic started to 235,429, reported Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman. Over the same 24 hours, the official Iranian death toll from Covid-19 climbed to 11,260 as another 154 Covid-19 patients were reported to have died. The provinces of Khuzestan, Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Razavi Khorasan, Ilam and Kermanshah were described as still being in a “red” state while Tehran, Fars, Mazandaran, Hamedan, Zanjan, Sistan and Baluchistan and Alborz were ranked as “orange”.

Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, governor of Tehran province, claimed on July 3 that he had opposed the complete reopening of public transportation in Tehran from the very beginning because, with the high volume of passengers, social distancing would be impossible and now the number of infections and fatalities in Tehran has spiked. He said that the chances of working remotely must be explored fully. Meanwhile Dr. Ilad Alavi, a specialist in infectious diseases at Tehran’s Loghman-e Hakim Hospital, said almost every day a new ICU ward was being created in Tehran and if the current situation continued, medical staff will be unable to do their jobs.

New restrictions would be imposed in the persistently “red” province of Kermanshah from July 3, announced Masoud Bahramnejad, spokesman for the Kermanshah Coronavirus Taskforce. But he emphasized that despite the rising number of Covid-19 cases, lockdown of the province was “not on the agenda.”

The governor of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Hossein Kalantari, also warned that infections in his province were on the rise. He said he was putting residents on notice that if they did not follow health guidelines, fatalities could reach “an incredible number”.

Six state labs in Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan province were conducting coronavirus tests 24 hours a day and as of July 3, had performed 15,000 tests, reported Mohammad Hashemi Shahri, president of Zahedan University of Medical Science. But Shahri added an important caveat: from now on, these labs would only provide free tests to individuals aged 60 or over, or those with a doctor’s note. Others, he said, could pay private labs for tests.

Although restrictions were imposed in the six “red” cities of Jahrom, Khonj, Larestan, Gerash, Evaz and Fesa in Fars province two weeks ago, no ban had been issued on traveling in or out of the province and this had made the situation more difficult, said Abdolreza Ghasempour, deputy governor of Fars at a meeting of Fars Coronavirus Taskforce. He pointed out that the provincial government has no authority to ban travels in and out of the province.

Directors of the Friday Imams’ policy councils in provinces of Mazandaran and Fars announced that Friday Prayers would not be held in “red” zones of those provinces. The same situation existed in almost all "red" cities in Iran. Similarly in Mashhad, legal action would be taken against organizers of illegal wedding and mourning ceremonies, said Ali Asghar Hosseini, an official of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences.

 

July 4:

Wide-Ranging Mask Rules Introduced as Test Kit Production Ramps Up in Iran

At a meeting of the Taskforce, President Rouhani said government services must be made available to those who ask for it provided they wear masks, and that wearing masks in crowded spaces and government offices must be mandatory from tomorrow, July 5. Furthermore, he added, government employees must also wear masks in the workplace and if they do not they must be prevented from entering and must be considered absent from work. Rouhani also declared that businesses that do not follow health protocols would be first warned, and then shut down after a week if they did not comply.

The ban on providing services to people who are not wearing masks was not limited to government offices but included public spaces such as shopping malls, added Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi. He did not elaborate how this rule was to be enforced.

Similarly, starting on the morning of July 5, all drivers and passengers of public transportation in the country — taxis, buses and metros — would have to wear masks, announced Deputy Interior Minister Mehdi Jamalinejad, citing an ordinance by the National Coronavirus Taskforce.

Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, reported that daily production of masks in Iran is now between six and seven million. He called for more resourcing for production companies, and claimed production of masks in Iran is now eight times of what it was before the coronavirus outbreak while 10 times more disinfectant liquids and gels are being produced.

Meanwhile, there is some confusion over what products Iran can export. PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test kits cannot be exported and must only be used in diagnostic tests inside the country, said National Coronavirus Scientific Committee chairman Mostafa Ghanei, but the export of antibody test kits is permitted.

Mohammad Vahidi, vice chairman of the parliament’s Education and Research Committee, has warned that despite the infection risk posed by crowded areas, there was no alternative to holding 2020’s nationwide university entrance exams: otherwise the start of the next academic year would be disrupted.

On the other hand, Dr. Minoo Moharez, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, said that the entrance exams must be postponed and other students who have been infected with coronavirus must be able to take their tests remotely. She warned against holding any exams in-person, adding that such a format could only be acceptable if the organizers could force the participants to sit at least 1.5 away from each other and wear masks. But, she pointed out, wearing masks for hours is difficult to endure.

While it is not clear why conscripts should be kept in barracks at all, General Taghi Mehri, the head of Iran’s Public Conscription Organization, reported that according to an order by the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the basic military training of new draftees had been shortened by a month and, until further notice, would last only one month.

Health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that in the 24 hours leading up to July 4, 2,449 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Iran, of whom 1,148 were hospitalized: bringing the ministry’s total number of cases to 237,878. In the same 24 hours, she reported, 148 Covid-19 patients had died, pushing the official death toll to 11,408.

The provinces of Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Ilam, Hormozgan, Bushehr and Khorasan Razavi were rated “red” and the provinces of Tehran, Fars, Isfahan, Alborz, Lorestan, Mazandaran, Hamedan, Zanjan and Sistan and Baluchistan remained “orange”. As of now, Sadat Lari added, a rather paltry-sounding 1,769,520 coronavirus tests had been performed in Iran.

In line with the new guidance on masks, the governor of Tehran province Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey said the surge in infections and hospitalizations in Iran was “alarming” and those who refused to wear masks would first be warned, then blocked from riding on public transport.

Khuzestan province has now been rated “red”, or high-risk, more than six weeks. Despite some restrictions in place, offices and markets are still carrying out their activities as normal. For a while the capital city of Ahvaz was in a “yellow” state but now it is “red” again and according to Farhad Abolnejadian, president of Ahvaz Jondishapur University of Medical Sciences, the number of “red”-rated cities in Khuzestan has now increased from 9 to 12.

More than 80 percent of Ilam’s population live in “red” zones, said Dr. Mohammad Karimian, president of Ilam University of Medical Sciences. The reliability of official statistics in Iran, however, is always questionable and officials often disagree with each other. In this case, Ghasem Soleimani Dashtaki, governor of Ilam, personally put the number of the population who live in “red” zones at 90 percent. He announced on July 4 that certain restrictions had been re-imposed, including a week-long lockdown of educational, cultural, religious and sports centers.

Mohammad Reza Saeeni, vice president of Zanjan University of Medical Sciences, said that 85 percent of the population of Zanjan province was in danger of infection by coronavirus. And Asghar Jafari, an official of the same university, warned that hospitals in the province are running out of capacity. To prevent a tragedy, he said, there may be no option but to set up field hospitals.

Restrictions must be quickly re-imposed in Isfahan, said Tahereh Changiz, president of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. She warned that in recent days, the number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in Isfahan – excluding those in the cities of Kashan, Aran and Bidgol – had reached 687, or close to the level seen in March, including 110 patients in the past 24 hours.

The spread of coronavirus in the cities of Larestan, Khonj and Evaz in Fars province has picked up speed, hospital beds for coronavirus patients in southern Fars are filled to the capacity and other hospitals are being equipped for admitting Covid-19 patients, reported Mohammad Hossein Karimi, president of Larestan University of Medical Sciences. In the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, Mohammad Hashemi Shahri, president of Zahedan University of Medical Sciences, reported that one-third of coronavirus patients were having to be hospitalized in ICU wards.

 

July 6:

Iran Still Misrepresenting Coronavirus Figures Amid Continuing Crisis

On July 6, the CEO of Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery expressed alarm at the number of deaths in the Iranian capital, which he said had reached an unprecedented level in the past 75 days. He warned that the situation had to be controlled, or else Tehran would once again be in a critical situation.

According to the guidelines set by the health ministry, the decision about whether a Covid-19 patient undergoes treatment should be determined by lung CT scans results. However, the ministry continues to downplay the figures by the separating figures for patients who have tested positive for coronavirus and those hospitalized suffering from “acute pulmonary syndrome.” 

Occasionally, the contradictory statements by health officials undo this effort to manipulate the data. For instance, on July 6, Ali Ahmad Aghapour, president of Urmia University of Medical Sciences, reported the purchase of two CT scan machines for the cities of Urmia and Miandoab. According to him, the purchase was made to better diagnose coronavirus patients in these two “red” cities.

Outside the capital, the situation also continued to be critical, but Iran’s officials refused to fully acknowledge the extent in the problem, whether in Tehran and its provincial surroundings, or in the provinces of Fars, Isfahan, Mazandaran, Zanjan, Alborz and Lorestan. A medical university official in Hormozgan province has said that the government’s insistence that businesses reopen has led to a much worse second spike there. 

Instead, the health ministry’s public relations office continued to be positive. “By wearing masks, washing hands and observing social distancing rules we have a 95 percent chance of preventing coronavirus infection,” ministry public relations official Kianoush Jahanpour said, adding that the country could fend off the virus in between 14 and 28 days. Although Jahanpour was officially replaced by Sima Sadat Lari as the spokesperson for the ministry on June 9, Jahanpour is still managing aspects of public relations for the ministry.

If the man who runs one of the capital’s major cemeteries is worried, why do the leaders of the country seem unperturbed and, even worse, attempt to mislead people by giving them false information?

Entering into her second month as the health ministry spokeswoman, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said the 10 provinces of Khuzestan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, East Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Hormozgan, Razavi Khorasan and Ilam remained in a “red” state of alert and the six provinces of Golestan, Alborz, Kerman, Yazd, Hamedan and Sistan and Baluchistan were also on alert, albeit less critical. She said that, as of July 6, 1,820,000 coronavirus tests had been conducted in Iran, a country with a population over 82 million.

According to Dr. Sadat Lari, 2,613 new coronavirus cases had been identified in the 24 hours covering July 5 and July 6, and out of those people, 1,468 had been hospitalized. The new cases bring the official total of coronavirus infections in Iran to 243,051 and with the death of 160 Covid-19 patients in the last 24 hours, the official death toll stood at 11,731 since the start of the epidemic. The official figures seriously downplay the real extent of the damage done by the pandemic.

IranWire receives the daily figures for the fatalities in Tehran through its own exclusive sources, and based on death certificates issued for the bodies handed over for burial to Behesht Zahra Cemetery. According to these figures, between February 20 and July 6, a total of 6,170 Covid-19 patients have died in Tehran.

According to the same figures, on Monday, July 6 alone, the bodies of 71 victims of coronavirus in Tehran were brought to Behesht Zahra Cemetery.

Despite hospitals making regular complaints about shortages of equipment, and in particular, oxygen concentrators, Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade officials insisted they were planning to export ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

Rashid Heydari Moghadam, president of the University of Medical Sciences of Hamedan, said an oxygen concentrator can serve the needs of 40 patients, so if intensive care unit (ICU) patients exceed this number,  providing them with oxygen could become a problem, noting that in late June and early July Hamedan province had difficulty getting the oxygen concentrators it needed. Heydari Moghadam said that the number of patients with acute pulmonary syndrome in Hamedan had grown three-fold and if it reached four-fold, the health system would not be able to cope due to the shortage of oxygen concentrators.

Keyvan Gardan, director general of the Ministry of Industry’s Electricity, Electronics and Home Appliances, said that the production of facemasks had increased at least 3,000 times since February 20 and that currently, there are at least 50 industrial units producing more than six million masks per day.

The National Coronavirus Taskforce’s decision to reopen schools on September 5 was made before Iran was hit by a second wave of the coronavirus epidemic, but if this wave intensifies, the date could be changed.

Anxiety over the future of university students continued, with Ebrahim Khodaei, head of the National Testing Organization, urging the nationwide university entry exams to go ahead. If they did not, he warned, it would have a detrimental effect on students hoping to study master’s and doctorate’s degrees. Students who pass the exams will start their courses in late October, he said.

Passengers, taxi drivers and others involved with operating taxi fleets across the country must wear masks as ordered by the National Coronavirus Taskforce, reported Morteza Zameni, president of the Taxi Drivers Union.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Kurdistan, 35 people have been arrested and sent to court for crimes against public health. According to Colonel Amir Houshang Heydarian, the deputy commander of Kurdistan police,  the arrested individuals were charged with smuggling and hoarding health products, including masks.

Although the first wave of the epidemic in the province of Hormozgan, with 520 hospitalized Covid-19 patients, was not exceptionally virulent, the government’s insistence on businesses reopening has caused it to have a far worse second wave. According to Hossein Farshidi, the president of Hormozgan University of Medical Science,  the number of cities on “red” alert in the province had risen to 10. reported Hossein Farshidi, president of Hormozgan University of Medical Science. He added that wearing masks had become mandatory at the end of June across the province, and this has become especially important in the port city of Bandar Abbas, where storekeepers, taxi drivers, office employees were all observing the practice, as were people in public spaces. 

The province of Khuzestan has been a “red” or danger zone for the last 50 days, and more than 50 percent of the province’s population live in “red” and “orange” alert areas. Health officials, however, have invested time in blaming people for the continuing crisis rather than taking effective steps to stop it. Or, if they were not blaming the people, they turned attention to factors outside the government’s control. 

For instance, Mohammad Alavi, head of Khuzestan Health Center, said the main reason for the continuing spread of coronavirus were the dust storms that for years have been pounding Khuzestan, causing the rate of asthma in the province to double. He also blamed blood pressure, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle as other reasons for the continuing spread of coronavirus in the province.

According to Alireza Armani Kian, vice president of Zanjan University of Medical Sciences, in the coming weeks the number of ICU beds in hospitals that belong to the university will reach 150 and each bed costs more than 1.4 billion tomans or $70 thousand.

The number of coronavirus cases and patients who need to be hospitalized in ICU is increasing in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, according to Mohammad Hashemi Shahri, president of Zahedan University of Medical Sciences, who warned that the crisis was so bad that in a number of hospitals the wards for coronavirus patients were full to capacity and in other hospitals, more than 95 percent of beds for these patients were occupied.

By July 6, beds in the infectious diseases ward at Sajjadyeh Hospital in the city of Torbat-e Jam in the southeast of Razavi Khorasan province were full. The city is in a critical condition, reported Mohammad Reza Afkar, president of Torbat-e Jam University of Medical Sciences, on July 6.

Museums in East Azerbaijan and libraries in Tehran were closed as some lockdowns returned to areas where coronavirus was once again surging.

Coronavirus infections are on the rise in Ardebil, reported Masoud Emami Yeganeh, the city’s governor, and warned that indoor wedding or mourning ceremonies must be avoided and urged people to take health guidelines seriously.

 

July 11: 

Rouhani Puts Economy First as Iran Hit by Second Wave of Coronavirus

President Rouhani is taking further steps to open Iran’s economy as coronavirus cases increase around the country. Speaking at a National Coronavirus Taskforce meeting on July 11, Rouhani said it was not reasonable to expect the economy to be shut down for six months, and that a total lockdown would not be possible in Iran anyway. He said measures had to be put in place to ensure business and education could reopen, while ensuring the public’s health was protected.

Rouhani’s government has consistently presented data about the outbreak of coronavirus that downplays the impact of the crisis, despite reports from several provincial officials that indicate that many parts of the country are in a state of emergency. The health ministry spokesperson’s daily announcements follow an obvious policy of distorting figures and denying the pandemic’s effect on the country. Recently, the spokesperson, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, failed to mention the situation in a number of hard-hit provinces, an omission that makes it clear that Tehran is not talking to local experts. 

Health minister Saeed Namaki has criticized government pressure to re-open businesses, mosques and other venues, but President Rouhani defended the reopenings and his policies for handling the pandemic. He has also repeatedly blamed the resurgence of the virus on members of the public who he says have refused to observe health protocols. He did, however, concede that public gatherings should be banned until further notice.

Many provinces are buckling under the pressure of rising cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, with governors announcing a “red” state of alert. Other provinces are on “orange” alert, and officials appear to be trying to prevent the situation from getting worse. 

Mohsen Hashemi, president of Tehran City Council, called for a two-week vacation to be declared to protect the capital and the province from a worsening outbreak of coronavirus. He said the public’s cooperation, including a commitment not to travel, was vital. At the same time, he acknowledged that such measures could only take place with the endorsement of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, which has the legal authority to make such decisions.

As the second wave of coronavirus in Tehran accelerated, the government increased the number of 16- and 24-hour screening centers from 56 to 90. The centers separate individuals with coronavirus symptoms from other patients and refer them to doctors for a full diagnosis.

As Iranian politicians returned to parliament, arrangements were made for newly-elected members to visit the Supreme Leader — a custom usually carried out in the early weeks of any new session — online. Mohammad Saleh Jokar, chairman of the Internal Policies Committee, said the video conference with Ayatollah Khamenei took place on July 12.

Rouhani asked the health ministry to draw up guidelines for the nationwide university entrance exams to go ahead, and health minister Saeed Namaki announced he, the minister of science and officials from the National Testing Organization would decide the details. More than two million students have registered to take the exams, and Iranian officials have repeatedly issued contradictory statements about how they should be managed in the wake of the pandemic.

The crisis has been made worse by a lack of clear health policy in many provinces in Iran, particularly in the south. Cases continue to rise and restrictions on movement are still in place in Bushehr, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, and Ilam. In Hamedan province, the governor has called for a partial lockdown in a number of cities and towns.

Dozens of cities, towns and even entire provinces have been classified as “red” zones or areas in a state of emergency, including eight of the nine cities of Bushehr province, and all of Ilam province, which entered into a second week as a “red” zone on July 11. Ninety percent of the province’s population live in high-risk areas. Ten cities in Mazandaran provinces were declared “red” in less than a week. The number of patients admitted daily in hospitals under the care of Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences rose from 300 to 1000. To prevent a repeat of the disastrous situation in Mazandaran in March and April, the health minister ordered his senior deputy Iraj Harirchi to personally review the situation.

And the number of “red” areas continues to rise. Until July 10, the health ministry classified the city of Ardebil as an “orange” zone — less at risk — but it is now also considered to be "red", with 70 percent of the city’s population people living in high-risk areas.  The province is now on a second peak of the epidemic according to the data, said Shahram Habibzadeh, president of Ardebil University of Medical Science.

According to the health ministry, Hamedan province as a whole is at less risk, neither a “red” or “orange” zone. And yet the provincial governor Saeed Shahrokhi announced that the number of infections and fatalities has grown four times and, to prevent further spread of the virus, certain businesses and activities should be locked down for a week in the “red” cities of the province, including Hamedan, Malayer, Tuyserkan and Nahavand.

Cases in the province of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad continue to rise and Hossein Kalantari, the governor of the province, has said that fatalities are rising at an alarming rate

Ilam University of Medical Sciences reported that 160 members of the province’s medical personnel had been infected with coronavirus, and the university president Dr. Mohammad Karimian warned that if the situation continued, it would be impossible to control the epidemic.

In response to the increase in the number of coronavirus patients in Fars province, five state hospitals and two private hospitals have allocated 818 regular beds and 129 specially equipped beds to these patients and a recovery center with 60 beds has been set up, according to Anayatollah Rahimi, gthe overnor of Fars. And Masoud Torabi, director of Fars Blood Transfusions Organization, warned that the blood reserves in the province are alarmingly low. The Ardebil province’s Blood Transfusions Organization also announced that it has an emergency need for blood and asked those who have recovered from Covid-19 to donate to help treat new patients.

The data presented by the health ministry continues to  contradict information on the ground. In the 24-hour period covering July 10 and Jully 11, the ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, announced that 2,397 new Covid-19 patients have been identified, bringing the total of infections since the epidemic started to 255,635. She said that 1,739 of the new cases had been hospitalized and reported that, in the same 24-hour period, 188 patients died from coronavirus, so the total death toll was 12,635 as of July 11.

According to Sadat Lari, the provinces of Khuzestan, East Azerbaijan, Razavi Khorasan, Hormozgan and North Khorasan are now “red” zones and the provinces of Tehran, Alborz, Lorestan, South Khorasan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Zanjan, Isfahan, Mazandaran, Golestan and Ilam are in an “orange” state.

It is not clear why the spokeswoman failed to include the provinces of Bushehr, Ardebil and Ilam in the list of red provinces, despite the fact that health officials in these provinces have announced that they are in a red state. And why are Isfahan, Fars, West Azerbaijan, Kerman, Yazd, Kurdistan, Hamedan and Kermanshah missing from her list of “orange” zones? Is it possible that a “red” province such as Kurdistan, Kermanshah or West Azerbaijan could move straight to being classified as a “yellow” (low alert) or “white” (very low risk) zone without moving through the “orange” or “serious risk” classification first?  Can it be that provincial health officials see the situation differently than the health ministry in Tehran, even though they are all part of the same organization?

 

July 17: 

Second Spikes, Shortages and a Continued Policy of Distorting the Data

New restrictions to combat coronavirus were set to come into effect in Tehran on Saturday, July 18. And yet, in her daily briefing, the health ministry’s spokeswoman made no mention of the critical situation in the nation’s capital, and cited only 14 provinces out of 26 as being in a “red” state, or state of emergency.

Dubai-based Emirates airlines resumed flights to the Iranian capital on Friday, July 17 after a five-month lapse because of shutdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus. The 16 passengers on the Emirates flight from Dubai passed through a disinfection tunnel and their body temperature was checked upon arrival at Tehran’s airport. “My colleagues and I screened the passengers for symptoms with interviews and we also have thermal sensors,” said Nadia Piri, one of the airport’s resident doctors. Airport deputy head Mohammad Reza Karimian claimed that a number of airlines had asked if they could resume flights to Iran but he stopped short of naming any of them.

Despite the danger posed by large gatherings and the risk of spreading coronavirus, President Rouhani instructed the Minister of Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli to cooperate with the relevant agencies to prepare guidelines for holding mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of the Shia saint Imam Hossein in September as soon as possible, and to submit them to the National Coronavirus Taskforce. As a matter of routine, however, he did emphasize the necessity for people to socially distance and said: "it is necessary to prevent  gatherings that can facilitate the outbreak of the dangerous disease in society by continuously informing people and asking them to avoid holding celebrations and mourning ceremonies.”

The health ministry continues to underreport the ravages of the epidemic in Iran. In the 24-hour period covering July 17, 2,379 new coronavirus cases were identified, and 1,852 out of that number have been hospitalized, bringing the total number of infections since the coronavirus outbreak to 269,440, according to the health ministry’s spokeswoman, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari. With 183 new fatalities, she said, the total death toll in Iran stood at 13,791.

The new school year will start on September 6, announced education minister Mohsen Haji-Mirzaei. In “white” zones where the risk of coronavirus was very low, he said, classes will be held in-person; in “yellow” zones, where the alert is slightly higher, there will be a combination of in-person and remote learning; in “red” zones all classes will be held online.

In a letter to the Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade, Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, warned of a shortage of masks as well as of raw material for making masks, and highlighted the high cost of both. He also warned that masks greatly vary in price and that the network for their distribution is disorganized. 

 

Provinces Round-up

The number of coronavirus cases has increased in Iran, reported the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari in her daily briefing. She said the provinces of East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Bushehr, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman and Fars are on “red” alert, but the number of infections, hospitalizations and fatalities have fallen in the provinces of Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan, Hormozgan and Kurdistan.

Many residents of Kurdistan have been infected for a second time, according to Ebrahim Ghaderi, vice president of Kurdistan University of Medical Science. He reported that 305 Covid-19 patients were currently being treated in Kurdistan’s hospitals, 76 of them in intensive care units. He said the number of hospitalized patients had declined compared with a few weeks previously, but that the number was still three times higher than the number of hospitalizations throughout April and May.

So according to Dr. Sadat Lari, the four provinces of Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan, Hormozgan and Kurdistan have gone from “red” to “orange” states of alert, while the two provinces of Fars and Kerman are now “red,” the highest state of alert. What is not clear, however, is why she did not cite other “red” or “orange” provinces in the country. 

Based on the health ministry’s criteria and according to information published by the ministry and the universities of medical sciences across the country, the provinces of Tehran, Alborz, South Khorasan and Sistan and Baluchistan are now “red” and the provinces of Qom, Ardebil, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Lorestan, Hamedan, Yazd and North Khorasan are “orange.”

Some provinces have been “red” states for an ongoing period of time — cases and fatalities continue to rise and there are no encouraging signs of them dropping consistently. According to reports, restrictions have been re-imposed in Ilam for the third consecutive week and in West Azerbaijan for the second consecutive week.

In some provinces, restrictions have either been generally ignored or have been ineffective because of their scope or lax enforcement. For instance, Abbas Ali Dorosti, vice president of Tabriz University of Medical Science, asked the judiciary, the Ministry of Interior, and the provincial government to come up with stricter regulations to ensure compliance with health protocols. He said that as of July 17, the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in East Azerbaijan was higher than what it had been during the first peak of the pandemic in March and April. Despite there being a ban on gatherings and exhibitions, exhibitions had been held without permits.

New restrictions were due to take effect in Tehran on July 18. According to deputy health minister Mohsen Farhadi, reception halls, coffee shops, indoor swimming pools, water parks, playground and zoos would be closed and gatherings, public ceremonies and contact sports such as wrestling, Judo and Taekwondo would be banned. Also, he said, government offices must arrange for one-third of their employees to work remotely, with the priority given to employees who suffer from underlying diseases or who are physically vulnerable.

The spread of coronavirus in Yazd province escalated, and the number of hospitalizations in the province had increased three times, from 70 to 235, over the last 40 days. According to Dr. Mohammad Nouri Shadkam, vice president of Yazd Shahid Sadoughi University of Medical Sciences, only 35 percent of the people in Yazd were complying with health protocols. 

Officials said Iran’s capacity to produce PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and RNA (ribonucleic acid) test kits had reached 6,610,000 units per month and, as of July 17, 2,157,000 units had been donated or sold to an NGO, the Board of Trustees for Patients Treatments with Currency Savings, as well as to the health ministry and the universities of medical sciences, according to Mostafa Ghanei, chairman of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee.

Ghanei did not specify how many of these kits were for diagnosing coronavirus infections and how many were for identifying anti-bodies. Regardless, if Ghanei is correct, by July 17, Iran had conducted a maximum of 25,000 coronavirus tests per day.  If it can be assumed that close to 50 percent of the kits the ministry cited, or three million per month, diagnose Covid-19 infections, then Iran is able to perform 100,000 tests per day.

 

July 18: 

On Saturday, July 18, as Iran re-imposed restrictions in the capital and elsewhere in the country, President Rouhani conceded that some 25 million Iranians may have contracted coronavirus. He quoted from a Ministry of Health report, the same ministry that has consistently distorted data about coronavirus infections and fatalities in the country, and which has also classified patients who have not had coronavirus-specific tests but show symptoms of Covid-19 as suffering from “acute pulmonary syndrome.”

Rouhani added: “There is the possibility that between 30 and 35 million more people will be at risk,” although he did not elaborate. He said since the outbreak, more than 200,000 people in Iran have been hospitalized and that it is possible that a few million more could be hospitalized in the coming year.

According to Rouhani, the coronavirus epidemic in Iran most likely started in Qom and Gilan provinces. People who had traveled from Wuhan, China initially contracted the virus and it was likely spread by students and tourists. He said the country had moved out of the first wave of coronavirus and, echoing deputy health minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei, blamed the second wave of the epidemic on the Iranian public and its failure to follow guidelines. In particular, he said people’s insistence on attending mourning services and wedding ceremonies had led to the spike in the number of cases in Iran.

In response to Rouhani’s statements, Alireza Moezzi, deputy head of the president’s press office, claimed that the 25 million Iranians who had been infected with coronavirus have now “complete immunity.” However, he only went so far to say they would not be vulnerable to re-infection for “some time,” which could be a reflection of the fact that scientists do not yet know how long immunity will last in people who have recovered from Covid-19. As recently as July 17, Ebrahim Ghaderi, vice president of Kurdistan University of Medical Sciences, said that during the second wave of coronavirus in the province, many people who had recovered from the first wave of Covid-19 had succumbed to the disease again.

In response to Ghaderi, Reza Malekzadeh, deputy health minister for research and technology, claimed that the current knowledge was that people who had contracted the illness now had “lasting immunity.” He said it had not been proven anywhere in the world that people can be re-infected with coronavirus, and in cases where it has been said that infection has recurred, it has been shown that the original infection lasted longer than originally thought. In exceptional cases, he said, the infection has even lasted up to 60 days.

Considering that there is a huge difference between the number cited by President Rouhani and the official daily numbers announced by the health ministry, the most strange justification for the discrepancy came from Mostafa Ghanei, secretary of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee. Referring to the “25 million” cited by Rouhani, Ghanei said this number does not refer to the number of patients because a “patient” is somebody who has been diagnosed as having been infected with coronavirus or is hospitalized for it, not somebody who has recovered and has the antibodies in his blood.

According to this novel definition of what constitutes a novel coronavirus infection, somebody has not been “diagnosed” as being sick cannot be sick and therefore cannot be classified as a patient. Ghanei added that when the health ministry announces that 25 million, or close to 20 percent of the Iranian population, have been infected with coronavirus, it means that their infection has been “light” and, consequently, they had no reason to visit a doctor. Therefore, he said, the actual figures for hospitalizations and fatalities are the figures that are announced by the health ministry on a daily basis.

In an ordinance issued to provincial governors and coronavirus taskforces across the country, Hossein Zolfaghari, deputy interior minister for security affairs, announced that all in-person gatherings, seminars and conferences will be banned across Iran until the epidemic recedes.

 

Provinces Round-up

President Rouhani and health minister Saeed Namaki held a video conference with provincial governors during which Namaki said that, like Khuzestan, the province of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad was still experiencing a peak in coronavirus cases and could face a difficult situation in the coming days.

The situation in Mazandaran province continued to be critical, with the number of hospitalizations rising fast. Deputy health minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei said the increase in the number of young and middle-aged patients needing to be hospitalized in the province was worrisome. Again, he blamed the rise on people’s negligence and failure to follow health protocols set out by the ministry.

Colonel Nader Moradi, deputy commander of Tehran’s Public Places Police, announced that gatherings, sports clubs and coffee shops would be closed from July 18. He said that if businesses do not follow the rules they will first receive a warning and if they continue to disregard regulations, they will be shut down.

Similar restrictions were imposed in all cities in provinces on “red” or “orange” alert. In some provinces, such as Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, restrictions have been in place for several weeks and were extended.

Government hospitals in Shiraz, the capital of Fars province, are at capacity with coronavirus patients. From July 18, private hospitals in the city also started to admit these patients, the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences announced.

In the 24- hour period covering July 18, 10 more Covid-19 patients died in Hormozgan province, bringing the official coronavirus death toll in the province to 445, according to Fatemeh Noroozian, director of public relations at Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. Mahmoud Hosseinpour, vice president of the university, said the number of coronavirus tests carried out in Hormozgan had declined because while the epidemic is at its peak “it stands to reason” that whoever displays the symptoms has been infected, so tests are not required.

Announcing that restrictions had been renewed for a further week in Hormozgan, Fereydoon Hemmati, governor of the province, said that a series of tests conducted with the cooperation of Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences showed that approximately 20 percent of the province’s population had tested positive, and many people who tested positive showed no symptoms. Based on the results of these tests and considering that Hormozgan has a population of 1.8 million people, 360,000 people have been infected with coronavirus there.

Similarly, Vahid Ahmad Tabatabai, vice president of Kerman University of Medical Sciences, said that Kerman is now a “red” zone and the university estimates that between 15 and 20 percent of its population has been infected with coronavirus. Kerman has a population of 3.2 million and, based on this estimate, between 480,000 and 640,000 people have been infected by coronavirus as of July 18.

In her daily briefing, health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said the total number of coronavirus hospitalizations in the country had increased. But she said in the provinces of Khuzestan and Zanjan, where the number of hospitalizations had been high in the first two weeks of July, hospitalizations and infections were on a downward trend. According to her, the provinces of East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Bushehr, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Kerman and Fars are currently "red," or on emergency alert.

As has become the custom, however, Dr. Sadat Lari presented incomplete information about “red” provinces. On July 18, as the day before, she did not provide information about provinces currently in an “orange” state. Based on the health ministry’s criteria and reports by the ministry and universities of medical sciences, currently the provinces of Tehran, Alborz, South Khorasan and Sistan and Baluchistan are “red” as well as the provinces she mentioned, and the provinces of Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Qom, Ardebil, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Lorestan, Hamedan, Yazd and North Khorasan are in an “orange” state.

Despite President Rouhani’s statements on July 18 about the extent of the pandemic in Iran, Dr. Sadat Lari followed her usual model for delivering figures, announcing that in the 24-hour period covering July 18, 2,166 new coronavirus patients had been identified, out of which 1,293 had been hospitalized, bringing the total number of cases in Iran to 271,606. During the same time period, she said, 188 Covid-19 patients died, increasing the total death toll to 13,979.

 

July 19:

Rouhani Admits 25 Million Iranians May Have Contracted Coronavirus

An epidemiologist with Iran’s National Coronavirus Taskforce has accused President Rouhani of risking a potential "genocide" with his government's policies to combat the coronavirus epidemic, while at the same time trying to stem potential public unrest.

On July 19, Tehran City Council confirmed that between February 20 and July 18, the city’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery had buried more than 7,167 people who had died from Covid-19. The announcement came as Iranian health ministry continued its policy of presenting invalid, distorted and misleading data about the epidemic in Iran, and the numbers of people who have lost their lives across the country.

As of July 19, the ministry said the total death toll for the entire country was 14,188.

On Saturday, July 18, quoting a health ministry report, Rouhani said that some 25 million Iranians may have already been infected with coronavirus, adding that “30 to 35 million Iranians are likely to be exposed to coronavirus in the coming months.” A day later, Dr. Mohammad Reza Mahboub-Far, an epidemiologist and a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, said statements by Rouhani were “a confirmation of Iran's policy of herd immunity.”

“I have been informed,” said Dr. Mahboub-Far, “that in a meeting with a number of key ministers, the president acknowledged that if restrictions continued, the country would be engulfed by an economic and security crisis and, as a result, millions will come out onto the streets to protest. The president emphasized that, because of the budget shortfall, the government does not want this to happen and prefers for the quarantines to end so that, with reopenings, the situation can return to normal and people can return to their businesses…The president emphasized that herd immunity would happen only when another 35 million are infected.”

“To say that 60 million people had to be infected with coronavirus means that a genocide must happen in this country, and this is in no way acceptable,” he said. “We must reconsider the policy of herd immunity because coronavirus is not a known disease and it is not certain that those infected will not get infected again in the future.”

In theory, Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person less likely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.

Dr. Mahboub-Far pointed out that global statistics from show that coronavirus infections result in an average of two percent mortality rate. This means that, with the 25 million cases the president appears to be calling for, Iran’s official statistics about the epidemic are questionable.

The taskforce expert said “more than 70 percent of Iranians want re-imposition of restrictions, lockdowns and quarantines to ensure that they and their families remain safe. They want the government to pay the costs of the coronavirus crisis by any means it can so they will not be forced to leave their homes.”

However, regardless of what its own experts say, the National Coronavirus Taskforce instructed the Islamic Development Organization, the Qom Seminary, the Friday Imams Policy Council and the Ministry of Health to submit their proposalsto the taskforce regarding mourning ceremonies due to take place in September and October marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia imam, in 680 CE.

The taskforce also allowed indoor and outdoor gatherings and ceremonies to resume in so-called “white,” “yellow” and “orange” cities — cities not on the highest alert level — provided they obtain a permit and are supervised by “control centers.” The taskforce also announced that tour groups are still not allowed to travel to Iran, although individuals can visit the country provided they observe health protocols.

Officially, the first cases of coronavirus broke out in Iran on February 19. But, in a public session of Tehran City Council, Dr. Nahid Khoda-Karami, head of the council’s Health Committee, stated that the first coronavirus death was registered on February 20 and, as a result, it was obvious that the outbreak started in Iran long before that date. She also reiterated that, from February 20 to July 18, more than 7,167 coronavirus victims had been buried in Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery.

IranWire receives an exclusive copy of the Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery records on a daily basis. The records, which are based on death certificates issued by doctors, corroborate the figures Dr. Khoda-Karami cited: out of  7,167 people who had died from coronavirus, the bodies of at least 1,886 people have been turned over to their families to be buried in other Tehran cemeteries and other parts of Iran.

According to Dr. Khoda-Karami, a scientifically-backed study conducted on data gathered from 275,000 people in Tehran who displayed coronavirus infection symptoms from March 21 to April 3 shows that their average age was 57. This statement reveals that, in just two weeks, at least 275,000 people in Tehran were infected with coronavirus, a number much higher than official statistics.

With the surge in the number of coronavirus cases, Tehran is now practically a “red” province, even though health ministry officials ministry have refused to include it in the official list of red, or high alert, provinces. According to Dr. Alireza Zali, director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, in the last 24 hours, 650 new Covid-19 patients have been hospitalized in the common wards of Tehran’s hospitals, a situation which Zali called “worrisome.”

But, even in such a situation,  government officials, including Tehran officials, have tried to pretend the situation is normal, and have refused to approve measures that would reduce the spread of the disease. For instance, Mohammad Ali Mokhtari, president of Tehran Parks and Green Spaces Organization, said that closing green recreational spaces could reduce the number of large crowds but, as of now, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has issued no such ordinance.

At the same time, Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences issued a statement calling on volunteers, NGOs and charities to come to its aid so that the hospitals it oversees can cope with the increasing number of coronavirus patients.

There have been reports of a high number of coronavirus deaths at Kahrizak Senior Citizens Home but Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, governor of Tehran province, announced that “only” 37 people had died from Covid-19 at the facility.

The situation in Alborz province is “red” and dangerous, and on the night of July 18, 815 people with coronavirus symptoms attended medical centers in the province, said Dr. Hossein Karim, president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences. He reported that as of July 19,  615 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the province and warned that if the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations exceeded 1,000, the province would be “facing a bad situation.”

In Golestan, Hadi Haghshenas, the governor of the province, once again warned about the shortage of hospital beds and said that the province’s medical infrastructure and its hospitals would not be able to cope with the high number of patients expected to need treatment in the fall as a result of a second wave of coronavirus. He said that, as of July 19, 688 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the province and, according to a number of experts, the number was likely to increase to 2,600 come autumn. Golestan’s medical centers, he warned, do not have the capacity to care for this number of coronavirus patients.

Countries where the coronavirus outbreak started around the same time as it had in Iran are gradually resuming their domestic and international flights, but Turkey announced that it was suspending all flights to and from Iran and Afghanistan. Turkish Airlines had gradually restarted international flights as of June 11. According to Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Administration, Turkey cited the coronavirus epidemic as the reason for the decision to stop flights again.

In her briefing for July 19, the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, again gave an incorrect number of provinces in the “red” state of emergency. According to Lari Sadat, the provinces of East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Bushehr, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman and Fars are still “red” zones. She made no mention of “orange” provinces whatsoever.

However, based on the criteria announced by the health ministry itself and according its own reports and those of universities of medical sciences in various provinces, the provinces of Tehran, Alborz, South Khorasan and Sistan and Baluchistan are also “red;” the provinces of Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Qom, Ardebil, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Lorestan, Hamedan, Yazd and North Khorasan are on an “orange” state of alert.

In the last 24 hours, said Dr. Sadat Lari on July 19, 2,182 new coronavirus cases had been identified, and 1,324 of those had been hospitalized, bringing the total cases in Iran since the outbreak to 273,656. In the same 24 hours, the official coronavirus death toll rose to 14,188, with the death of a further 209 people who had contracted Covid-19.

 

July 21: 

President Hassan Rouhani’s claim that 25 million Iranians had probably already contracted coronavirus and many more millions of cases would follow continues to spark debate, days on from the original controversy. 

On July 18, Rouhani quoted health ministry research when making the announcement, adding that “30 to 35 million Iranians are likely to be exposed to coronavirus in the coming months.” A day later, Dr. Mohammad Reza Mahboub-Far, an epidemiologist and a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, described Rouhani’s statements as “a confirmation of the policy of herd immunity,” adding that this could amount to “genocide” for Iran. 

On July 21, government health officials appeared to be trying to repair the unintended consequences of the president’s comments, despite claims that Rouhani’s statements were based on empirical data. Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raeesi said the number Rouhani quoted was based on research conducted through serological tests and refuted assertions that this meant the health ministry had embraced a policy of “herd immunity.” He emphasized that serological tests are not valid to diagnose coronavirus and neither the World Health Organization nor other international health research bodies would have ever claimed to have diagnosed coronavirus infections using this method. “These tests are only meant to investigate the situation of infections in an area and then, through mathematical modeling, we can estimate the rate of infection,” he said.

Raeesi then reported that the number of cases in the provinces of Khuzestan, Kurdistan and Hormozgan was either stabilizing or declining, but that case numbers had surged in Fars, Mazandaran and South Khorasan. Other provinces, he said, were in an “orange” state, or a serious state of alert.

One of many problems people have faced during the pandemic is the difficulty of moving and changing places of residence. In a letter to the judiciary and the Association of Real Estate Consultants, Mohammad Eslami, Minister of Roads and Urban Development, reiterated that leases for residential properties remain in effect until three months after the health ministry officially announces that the coronavirus pandemic is over. Tenants cannot be evicted against their will during this period, but added that it was a different matter if the property is actually sold.

Tehran has been in a “red” or state of high emergency for more than a week and the number of infections is rising by the day. Unlike in March and April, when almost all the wards in hospitals were dedicated to treating coronavirus patients, hospitals are now treating non-coronavirus patients as well. As a result, said Dr. Hamid Emadi, head of the infectious diseases ward at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Hospital, they have less capacity to admit Covid-19 patients. “Because of this,” he added, “we have no available capacity for coronavirus patients and if such a patient is in a critical condition we have practically no room for the patient. The number of patients we have already exceeds our capacity.”

The province of East Azerbaijan has been in a “red” state for close to two weeks, and according to Abbas Ali Dorosti, vice president of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, in the last few months approximately 1,500 medical staff in the province have been infected. He said the number of coronavirus patients in a critical condition has increased and currently around one-fourth of all coronavirus patients in East Azerbaijan are hospitalized in intensive care units (ICUs). He added that, at the moment, there are around 850 coronavirus patients in hospitals in East Azerbaijan, and out of those, approximately 200 are in ICU wards.

The number of hospitalizations in Khuzestan province has been falling for the last few days and if this trend continues and health guidelines are followed, Khuzestan will move out of a state of emergency, according to Dr. Farhad Abolnejadian, president of Ahvaz Jondishapur University of Medical Sciences. For the last five days, he added, less than three people per every 100,000 of the population had been hospitalized. He explained if the numbers continued in this way, after 14 days, the province will be re-classified as an “orange” state, or less at risk.

In a number of “red” areas in Iran, public gathering places, including religious centers and sites, have been closed. But in some provinces religious authorities have opposed this decision, making it more difficult to lock down religious sites. In Zanjan province, however, Mokhtar Karami, head of the province’s Department of Religious Endowment and Charity Affairs, announced that all religious sites, including mosques, shrines and prayer halls, which had been locked down again on July 6, would stay closed until the National Coronavirus Taskforce decided otherwise.

Also in Zanjan, Nahid Kamkar, head of the province’s Bureau of Nursing Affairs, reported that at each of Zanjan’s hospitals, between 10 and 12 percent of nurses had been infected by coronavirus and, as a result, Zanjan has a shortage of nurses.

With the surge in coronavirus infections, the city of Arak, the capital of Markazi province, is now in a “red” state, according to Ali Aghazadeh, Markazi’s governor. To control the situation, he said, restrictions would be imposed in the Arak metropolitan area and other red cities in the province. He added that gatherings of more than 10 people in these cities could face bans. According to Aghazadeh, Arak’s Amir Al Mo'menin Hospital was full to capacity and the hospital has been forced to send coronavirus patients to Ayatollah Khansari Hospital. There are very few hospital beds in the province, so if the situation continued to worsen, coping with it would be problematic.

The province of Fars has been “red” for some days now. Reporting that coronavirus infections in the province have been surging over the last three weeks and 21 out of 36 cities in the province are now “red,” Anayatollah Rahimi, governor of Fars, said that currently 91 percent of beds reserved for non-ICU patients and 93 percent of ICU beds in the province’s hospitals have all been occupied by coronavirus patients.

On July 21, the the Ministry of Health declared the province of Kerman “red.” During the first peak of the epidemic in March and April, there were no insurmountable problems in the province and the situation was manageable but the number of patients has risen sharply since June, and now all hospitals in Kerman are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, according to Morteza Hashemian, vice president of Kerman University of Medical Sciences. According to Dr. Hashemian, currently 700 patients who are suspected of having or confirmed to have contracted coronavirus are hospitalized in Kerman.

The four cities of Ardebil, Meshgin Shahr, Parsabad and Khalkhal, the most populous cities in Ardebil province, have witnessed a surge in hospital visits and hospitalizations in the last few days, announced Shahram Habibzadeh, president of Ardebil University of Medical Sciences. In the last 24 hours alone, 71 new Covid-19 patients, 50 in a critical condition, have been hospitalized. He said 11 people with Covid-19 had died in Ardebil. According to Dr. Habibzadeh, the number of coronavirus patients hospitalized had reached 382 and hospitals face a crisis as the number of patients increases day by day.

In Gilan province, 30 percent of coronavirus cases are either people who have traveled to the province, or locals who have had contact with them, reported Dr. Abtin Heydarzadeh, vice president of Gilan University of Medical Sciences. The trend of coronavirus infections in the province is also going upward and currently 300 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized across the province, he said, adding that approximately 30 of these patients are in ICU wards and connected to ventilators.

Mazandaran province is “red” and, according to Simin Babaei, spokeswoman for Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences, 1,000 university medical staff members and other frontline workers have been infected with coronavirus, forcing others to step in to fight the second coronavirus wave in the province.

The health ministry declared Bushehr a “red” province. In the 24-hour period ending on July 21, 56 new coronavirus patients were hospitalized, bringing the total number of current Covid-19 hospitalizations to 346, of whom 55 are kept in ICU wards, reported Saeed Kashmiri, secretary of Bushehr Coronavirus Taskforce.

The provinces of Lorestan, Alborz, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ilam, Bushehr, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman and Fars are “red,” and the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Bushehr, Hormozgan, Qazvin, Markazi, North Khorasan, South Khorasan, Semnan, Ardebil, Sistan and Baluchistan, Hamedan, Ardebil and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad are in the “orange” state, announced Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman.

As has become customary in her daily briefings, the spokeswoman presented a distorted list of afflicted provinces. According to the criteria announced by the Ministry of health and based on reports published by the ministry itself and presented by provincial health officials, the provinces of Tehran, South Khorasan, Sistan and Baluchistan and Kermanshah are also “red” and the provinces of Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Qom and Yazd should be classified as “orange.” 

In her daily briefing, Dr. Sadat Lari also announced coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 2,625

- New hospitalizations: 1,977

- Iran’s total cases since the initial outbreak: 278,827

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,200,000

- New fatalities: 229 — a record number

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 14,634

 

July 23: 

Official Covid-19 Death Toll Passes 15,000

On the day that the health ministry announced that out of 31 Iranian provinces, 12 are “red” or on emergency alert, and 13 are “orange,” it was reported that in the province of Mazandaran, the number of coronavirus patients had increased six times and that 60 percent of ICU beds in the province are now occupied by Covid-19 patients. In the meantime, the health ministry continued to blame the people of Mazandaran and travelers to the province for the health crisis instead of offering concrete solutions.

In the last few months, the president and the health ministry have often talked past each other on the subject of the pandemic, so much so that it might have seemed that they were talking about two different countries. In a recent example, while the ministry reported that at least 25 provinces were dealing with a surge in coronavirus, President Rouhani insisted in meetings with various committees of the National Coronavirus Taskforce that analysis indicated a drop in the spread of coronavirus in many provinces.

On one point, however, President Rouhani appeared to be in complete agreement with the health ministry: both blame the public for the situation, and cast it as the main culprit of the crisis. The pressure to earn a minimum living combined with the lack of support from the government has forced many people to return to their normal patterns of life. At the same time, Rouhani insists that it is not the reopening of the economy that has led to the resurgence of coronavirus, it is people’s failure to follow health guidelines and their continued attendance at gatherings and wedding and mourning ceremonies. 

But Rouhani also declared that the huge mourning ceremonies, due to start on August 29 to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, have “many spiritual benefits” and holding them is “an absolute necessity” and “an undeniable spiritual need.” He added that those attending the ceremonies must follow health guidelines. So, according to Rouhani, the same people who refuse to follow health guidelines during gatherings they organize for themselves will be able to comply with these rules when it comes to the mourning ceremonies, and therefore stop the virus from spreading. 

Health ministry officials follow the same basic scenario, and say nothing about the government’s role in changing people’s behavior. In a Golestan Coronavirus Taskforce meeting, Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi reiterated that a coronavirus vaccine would not be available for at least another year. Until then, he said, changing people's behavior must be put on the agenda. He did not offer any concrete plans for doing so.

The number of coronavirus fatalities as of July 23 is 50 percent higher than during the first peak of the pandemic in March and April, Harirchi said. He said that “of course” fatalities would increase even more when fall and winter arrive.

While restrictions have been in place in Mazandaran for two weeks, the number of infections and hospitalizations in the province is still climbing. In the three weeks since the second wave of coronavirus began in the province, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Mazandaran grew six times; by July 23, a total of 1,847 people were hospitalized and 60 percent of all ICU beds in the province were occupied by Covid-19 patients.

The city of Amol is the hardest hit area in Mazandaran, with 400 people having contracted coronavirus there. Despite strict restrictions, the number of new coronavirus cases in the city is increasing, according to Jafar Rasouli, Amol’s governor. He said the main reason for the rise is the city’s crowded bazaar. However, he pointed out, the bazaar cannot be locked down because of people’s economic difficulties. “Last week,” he said, “we asked for voluntary closures but it was not well received and just a few businesses closed up.”

Without making any mention of people’s need to make a living, Senior Health Minister Iraj Harirchi blamed the situation on people’s behavior and said the increase in the number of coronavirus cases will not stop unless people comply with social distancing, wear masks and abstain from holding and attending ceremonies. He also warned that people should not travel to Mazandaran because of risk of infection or the possibility of bringing further cases into the province. However, he stopped short of setting out any concrete measures to enforce his recommendations.

Markazi province was in an “orange” state of alert for several days toward the middle of July, and yet it appeared to have been omitted from the health ministry’s daily briefings. Behrouz Akrami, spokesman for the province’s Civil Defense Organization, reported that in the last month, 2,650 new cases of coronavirus, an average of 86 per day, had been identified in the province. He said this meant that out of the total cases in the province, half had been contracted in the last month alone. He also reported that the two hospitals that were allocated to treat Covid-19 patients have now run out of capacity.

The government has consistently called on the people to wear masks, but the rise in their cost has prevented the poorer part of the population from acquiring them. This has triggered a quarrel between two government ministries. Although masks are being produced domestically, when the health ministry called on the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade to acquire more masks, it practically accused the ministry of being responsible for the shortage and the high price of masks. In response, on July 23, the Ministry of Industry denied it had any responsibility by announcing that between 18 and 30 million of the masks that had been imported during the first peak of the pandemic were still being stored in warehouses.

According to the health ministry, Ardebil is an “orange” province, but figures announced by Ardebil University of Medical Sciences clearly show that the province is in a “red,” or emergency, state of alert. The number of coronavirus fatalities in the province is still rising and, in the 24-hour-period ending on July 23, 93 new coronavirus patients had been hospitalized, bringing the total number of currently hospitalized patients to 420. Based on health ministry’s criteria and considering the size of Ardebil’s population, more than 40 hospitalizations per day is enough to put the province in the “red” category, so the number of new hospitalizations means it is twice that level.

Offering leaves of absence to prisoners during the pandemic has been left to the discretion of provincial officials so they can run their prisons better, announced Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi. He made no mention of the fact that most political prisoners and imprisoned civil rights activists have been denied leaves of absence, even when they have coronavirus.

Compared to the peak of the epidemic in March and April, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Golestan province has been reduced by half. So, according to Hadi Haghshenas, Golestan’s governor, a  shortage of hospital beds was not a problem at the time. However, he said, when the cold season begins and there is a possible surge in the number of infections, there is no doubt that the shortage of beds will pose a serious problem to the province.

From February 20 to July 22, 11,700 patients suffering from acute pulmonary syndrome have been hospitalized in Golestan province. Of these,  611 have died from coronavirus, said Dr. Abdolreza Fazel, president of Golestan University of Medical Sciences. He also reported that currently 728 coronavirus patients are hospitalized across the province — 612 in common wards and 116 in ICUs.

Seventeen percent of all coronavirus cases in Kurdistan have been identified in people over 60 years of age, and this age group accounts for 71 percent of the province's fatalities, according to Ebrahim Ghaderi, vice president of Kurdistan University of Medical Sciences. He also reported that two percent of fatalities in the province have been children under 15. Out of the total number of fatalities in Kurdistan — 31 percent women and 69 percent men — 35 percent had no underlying diseases or conditions.

In her daily briefing, the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari reported that the number of coronavirus infections and mortalities had increased in the country, and that 25 Iranian provinces are now either in a “red” or “orange” state of alert. She also reported that in Fars province the number of hospitalizations on July 23 was double what it was on July 16, and in Razavi Khorasan, the daily rate of hospitalizations had also doubled.

As in recent days, said Dr. Lari, the provinces of Lorestan, Alborz, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ilam, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman and Fars are “red” and the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Bushehr, Hormozgan, Qazvin, Markazi, North Khorasan, South Khorasan, Semnan, Ardebil, Sistan and Baluchistan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad and Hamedan are on an “orange” state of alert.

But, as in previous days, reports by provincial officials and universities of medical sciences suggest that the provinces of Tehran, South Khorasan and Sistan and Baluchistan should be added to the “red” list and the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Qom, Markazi and Yazd to the “orange” one.

In her daily briefing, Dr. Sadat Lari also announced the official version of coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:

 

- New coronavirus cases: 2,621

- New hospitalizations: 1,004

- Total cases since the outbreak: 284,034

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,254,000

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 247,230

- New fatalities: 221

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 15,074

 

July 24 and 25: 

Friday Imam Claims Coronavirus is “Secular,” pushing religious countries towards atheism

Between July 24 and July 25, 410 people died of Covid-19 in Iran and the official number of coronavirus cases in the country passed 288,000. Regardless, President Rouhani declared that mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hossein must be held "everywhere" — in cities and in villages, in places that are “red” and in places that are “white.” Meanwhile, the senior deputy health minister reported that only 55 percent of Iranians were wearing masks, adding that 95 percent of people should wear them in order to control the spread of the virus. Even so, he also declared that the mourning ceremonies for Imam Hossein would “definitely” be held, and that health and safety guidelines would be followed. 

Social restrictions in Iran continued and officials in various provinces warned people that they would face legal action if they held gatherings such as wedding and mourning ceremonies, even inside their homes. However, President Rouhani again told the National Coronavirus Taskforce that mourning ceremonies for Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam and the grandson of Prophet Mohammad who was martyred in present-day Iraq in 680 AD, would go ahead. However, he graciously added that the ceremonies could be stretched to four or five days so that everyone did not have to participate in the gatherings at the same time.

Rouhani also set fire to a straw man by stressing that creating a dichotomy between "life and bread" and "mourning and health" is wrong. They should exist side by side, he said, in compliance with health protocols.

Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi reported that the number of new coronavirus hospitalizations in the nation’s capital had reached 600 and that Tehran is now a source of the transmission of the disease to other parts of the country. However, he then emphasized that mourning ceremonies for Imam Hossein would “definitely” be held, and that all safety and health protocols would be observed.

Harirchi mentioned the official statistics that show an average of 25 percent of over 1,000 daily deaths in Iran is from Covid-19, describing it as “significant.” However, there are reasons to believe that official coronavirus figures continue to undercount the true number of fatalities.

Harirchi also expressed his hope that the domestic production of an influenza vaccine would be launched before the fall so that pregnant women who are covered by the health ministry’s medical center and high-risk individuals with underlying diseases can be vaccinated for the flu season.

Harirchi said that, according to the health ministry’s estimates, only 50 percent of Iranians wear masks. However,  in order to control the spread of coronavirus, 95 percent of people needed to wear masks when they are outside their homes. He reported that the average compliance with health guidelines across the country was as follows: 

- Government offices: 70 percent
- Cemeteries: 80 percent
- Restaurants: 77 percent
- Pharmacies: 26 percent
- Doctors’ offices: 10 percent

 

Exams Controversy Continues

The decision of whether or not nationwide university entrance exams will take place or be postponed rests with the National Coronavirus Taskforce. Parliament will play no role in it, Ali Karimi, parliament’s observer at the Students Testing and Admittance Council, said.

Over the last two weeks, the Tehran metropolitan area has been unofficially in a “red” (emergency) state and the Public Places Police announced that beauty and barber shops, coffee shops, cafés, cinemas, arts and cultural centers, swimming pools and body-building gyms will be closed for a week.

In a letter to the health minister, Dr. Alireza Zali, the director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, asked him arrange for 50 percent of government employees to work remotely so that there would be less traffic in the city and the transmission of coronavirus would be reduced.

While Tehran is “red” and in a critical situation, Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, governor of the province, like may other officials in the country, tried to sound as religiously devout as he could. He announced an increase in the surveillance of the activities of businesses subject to restrictions issued by the provincial coronavirus taskforce, at the same time emphasizing that the mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hossein would go ahead in Tehran.

 

Provinces Round-up

In Mazandaran province, where the number of infections is still surging, 369 new patients with coronavirus symptoms were hospitalized in medical centers run by the Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences, bringing the total number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in the province to 1,921.

Despite the critical situation in Mazandaran, however, travelers and tourists continued to rush to the scenic province on the shores of the Caspian sea. Health Minister Iran Harirchi pleaded with people not to travel to Mazandaran or to the equally scenic province of Golestan because the chances of contracting the virus in these two provinces are high. At the same time, the president of Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences reported that, as of July 25, more than 1,000 medical staff in the province had become infected with coronavirus.

Most areas in Zanjan are “red” or in an emergency state of alert, and the province is now on the peak of the epidemic, said Mohammad Reza Saeeni, vice president of Zanjan University of Medical Sciences. He reported that there were currently 521 Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the province.

In Hamedan province, 2,817 people have been infected since the coronavirus outbreak and 328 of them have died, said Rashid Heydari Moghadam, president of Hamedan University of Medical Sciences. He reported that the five cities of Hamedan, Nahavand, Tuyserkan, Kabudarahang and Malayer are in a “red” state and blamed the spread of the virus on people attending gatherings. Nevertheless he, too, announced that mourning ceremonies marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein would take place in line with safety guidelines and according to instructions issued by the National Coronavirus Taskforce.

By July 25, the coronavirus epidemic had turned into a crisis in Razavi Khorasan and, according to Iraj Harirchi, coronavirus cases had increased by 300 percent over the last month. And Hasan Jafari, deputy governor of Razavi Khorasan, said that in the second peak of the pandemic many medical staff in the province lost their lives, a considerable number have been infected and the remainder were working under very difficult conditions.

Nevertheless, Ahmad Elmolhoda, the Friday Imam of Mashhad, the provincial capital, harshly criticized measures taken to control the pandemic and said that the ban on Friday Prayers and the lockdown of the Imam Reza Shrine, mosques, the bazaar and playgrounds was not the solution and was instead the sign of “clueless management.”

Qom's Friday Imam, Abbas Mousavi Motlaq, said that certain people had been unduly warning that the coronavirus outbreak would threaten the upcoming religious ceremonies marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein. Dismissing coronavirus as a "secular virus," he reiterated that "with its destructive effects, coronavirus is trying to lead religious countries astray, and toward atheism." The Friday Imam of Qom, the largest center for the Twelver-Shiites seminaries in the world, insisted that coronavirus is "secular," and people should follow religious experts' instructions for holding the upcoming mourning ceremonies and no one else.

Since Friday, July 24, 34 new coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Bushehr province, bringing the total number of current hospitalized Covid-19 patients in the province to 315.

In the 24-hour period between July 24 and July 25, 88 new coronavirus cases were identified in the province of Ilam, reported Dr. Mohammad Karimian, president of Ilam University of Medical Sciences. The total confirmed coronavirus cases in the province since the outbreak started stood at 5,464 as of July 25. Out of these number, 160 had died.

As of July 25, Kerman province had been in the “red” or emergency state alert for close to a week and Mehdi Shafiei, spokesman for Kerman University of Medical Sciences, reported that in the previous week 97 new Covid-19 patients had been hospitalized in the province and 10 had died.

Eight cities in Hormozgan province are in the “red” state and in the last week 61 coronavirus patients died, bringing the total death toll in the province to 496, reported Dr. Hossein Farshidi, president of Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. According to Dr. Farshidi, 418 coronavirus patients were currently hospitalized in the province, including 90 in ICU wards, of whom 33 are in critical condition.

Markazi province had unofficially been in the “red” state for the last few days and, according to Dr. Mohammad Jamalian, president of Arak University of Medical Sciences, in the last 24 hours 202 new coronavirus cases had been identified in the province, bringing to total confirmed cases in Markazi since the outbreak to 6,038, of whom 255 have died.

 

Daily Briefing

In her daily briefing on July 24 and 25, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry spokeswoman, pointed out that infections are still on the rise in the two provinces of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad and Sistan and Baluchistan. For example, she said, in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad the rate of hospitalizations in the last two months had increased four times, and in the city of Gachsaran the number of daily hospitalizations was 10 times higher. According to Dr. Lari, the increase in the number of hospitalizations in the city of Parsian in Hormozgan and in the Persian Gulf island of Kish was alarming.

As in recent days, she said, the provinces of Lorestan, Alborz, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ilam, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman and Fars are “red,” and the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Bushehr, Hormozgan, Qazvin, Markazi, North Khorasan, South Khorasan, Semnan, Ardebil, Sistan and Baluchistan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad and Hamedan are in an “orange” state.

But, as in the last several days, it is important to point out that, based on the reports by provincial officials and universities of medical sciences, the provinces of Tehran, South Khorasan and Sistan and Baluchistan are not “orange” but “red” and the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Qom, Markazi and Yazd are in the “orange” state as well.

In her daily briefing on July 24, Dr. Sadat Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the preceding 24 hours:

 

- New coronavirus cases: 2,316

- New hospitalizations: 1,004

- Total cases since the outbreak: 288,839

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,302,634

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 251,319

- New fatalities: 195

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 15,484

 

July 26: 

For almost a week, the health ministry’s spokesperson Dr Sima Sadat Lari has claimed that 15 out of 31 Iranian provinces are classified as “red,” the highest Covid-19 alert level. But on July 26, Kianoush Jahanpour, the head of the health ministry’s public relations office, confirmed that 25 provinces are on emergency alert. The number was also confirmed by IranWire’s own review of individual provinces’ announcements of coronavirus hospitalizations. 

As with many Islamic Republic officials, Jahanpour — who had previously held the job of spokesperson for the ministry — blamed the crisis exclusively on ordinary people, who he chastised for believing that the situation had returned to normal. Some officials also singled out doctors’ offices for their refusal to adhere to safety guidelines, despite the obvious fact that social distancing is often impossible in a doctor-patient consultation.

At the same time, many governors and key officials continued to make plans for the upcoming ceremonies marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein.

Officials have also so far refused to cancel nationwide university entrance exams. According to Mohammad Vahidi, deputy chairman of parliament’s Education and Research Committee, the exams will take place as scheduled. However, parliament is obliged to follow the decisions of the National Coronavirus Taskforce. “This year,” he said, “all decisions about gatherings, ceremonies and even the reopening of the mosques lie with the National Coronavirus Taskforce, and this includes the university entrance exams.”

Kianoush Jahanpour announced that the country was now in the middle of the “second chapter” of the pandemic. He added that the crisis in the province of Razavi Khorasan, the focal point for Shia pilgrims in Iran, is the most severe among the 25 provinces on emergency alert.

According to the health ministry’s Epidemiology Committee, the rate of coronavirus infections and fatalities in Iran remains relatively high. In the last three weeks, says the committee’s report, the epidemic has been somewhat stable in Lorestan province, with small and uneven variations; and it has slightly dipped in Khuzestan. However, it has peaked or is currently peaking in the nine provinces of East Azerbaijan, North Khorasan, Mazandaran, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Qazvin, Golestan, Qom and Tehran. The six provinces of Zanjan, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad and Markazi have recently gone through a peak of the pandemic. Due to the inconsistency in data, the report could not provide a reliable analysis of 14 other provinces.

 

Provinces Round-up

In the province of Razavi Khorasan, 19 cities are red, six are orange, two are yellow and four are white, according to Hassan Jafari, the province’s deputy governor. He said at the peak of the first wave of coronavirus in the province on April 17 the number of hospitalizations and fatalities was high, but “unfortunately, at the peak of the second wave on July 19 we witnessed a high number of hospitalizations and fatalities as well.” According to the latest figures, he said, 76 percent of the province's population were wearing masks.

In East Azerbaijan, 80 percent of hospital beds for coronavirus patients are full and 803 people are currently hospitalized, with about 120 in a critical condition and requiring ventilators to help them breathe, said Dr. Mohammad Hossein Sumi, president of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences. An official from Tabriz Imam Reza Teaching and Treatment Center reported that approximately 160 coronavirus patients were hospitalized there, and out of that number, 80 are in the intensive care unit (ICU) and 60 of them were breathing with the aid of ventilators.

Levels of coronavirus cases in Bushehr, officially an “orange” province, have stabilized over the last week, said Abdolkarim Gravand, the governor of Bushehr. But he warned that the situation is fragile and the province will again witness a rise in infections if health protocols are ignored. To prevent this, he said, restrictions in the province will be extended for another week. However, he appeared to undermine this policy by discussing the upcoming mourning ceremonies marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, which are due to  be held indoors in Bushehr province. Gravand said a working group had been set up to analyze the situation and suggest ways that the ceremonies could be held safely.

In June, the number of coronavirus cases in Ilam province rose 3.3 times and the number of fatalities increased 1.2 times compared with the numbers recorded at the beginning of the outbreak, said Ghasem Soleimani Dashtaki, governor of the province. He said people must continue to avoid crowds, travel, holding gatherings in parks or other public spaces, and attending wedding and mourning ceremonies. But, as with Bushehr’s governor, he said forthcoming ceremonies to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein will be held according to a strict schedule and in line with health and safety protocols.

At the same time, the National Coronavirus Taskforce, which continues to make some of the country’s most important decisions, denied a request for one-third of government employees in Ilam to work remotely, despite data indicating that more than two-thirds of all coronavirus fatalities in the province have occurred over the last month.

On July 25, Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi claimed that doctors’ offices were failing to comply with health protocols, stating that only 10 percent of these public offices were adhering to guidelines. This was the lowest compliance level among public spaces and amenities, he said. But on July 26, Dr. Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi, head of Iran’s Medical Council, wrote to the health ministry criticizing such comparisons and dismissing them as invalid and unscientific. He said that, among other things, the high number of patients and the fact that some are disabled makes social distancing impossible. Doctors cannot refuse to see or examine patients, he said.

Coronavirus infections in Mazandaran are still rising and on July 26 it was announced that another member of the province’s medical staff lost their life to Covid-19, the tenth death among medical professionals in the province. During the same time, 251 new coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Mazandaran, bringing the total of hospitalizations in the province to 1,939.

The number of coronavirus patients admitted to Tehran’s Tajrish Martyrs Hospital exceeds the number of those released, said Dr. Reza Jalili Khoshnood, the hospital’s president. He reported that, as of July 26, close to 200 members of the hospital’s medical staff had been infected with coronavirus, some for the second time. The hospital has 410 beds and, according to Dr. Khoshnood, about 200 of these beds have been allocated to Covid-19 patients.

Restrictions on travel to villages and on certain categories of jobs, which were imposed in Hormozgan at the beginning of July, were extended for another week, announced Fereydoon Hemmati, Hormozgan’s governor. Mosques and prayer halls remain closed, he said, and social, religious, cultural, wedding and mourning ceremonies are banned.

The number of coronavirus cases in Isfahan is increasing and the number of cases in Tehran province has doubled over the past month, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman, reported. She said nine cities in Tehran province are in the “orange” state or a state of high alert, and that the pace of the increase in the cities of Tehran, Pakdasht, Damavand and Shahriar is relatively fast. Currently, she said, half of the beds designated for adults in Tehran’s hospitals are now occupied by coronavirus patients.

She continued to categorize Tehran province as an “orange” area. But according to the health ministry’s own criteria and figures, Tehran has been “red” for close to two weeks.

As in recent days, she said, the provinces of Lorestan, Alborz, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ilam, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman and Fars are “red,” and the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan, Bushehr, Hormozgan, Qazvin, Markazi, North Khorasan, South Khorasan, Semnan, Ardebil, Sistan and Baluchistan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad and Hamedan are in an “orange” state.

But, as been the case for several days, if not weeks, the spokesperson’s statements contradict other information provided by provincial officials and universities of medical sciences. These sources assert that the provinces of Tehran, South Khorasan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Qazvin, Ardebil, Hamedan, Bushehr, Hormozgan, Isfahan and Markazi are not “orange” but actually “red,” and the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Qom, and Yazd are also classified as “orange.”

In her daily briefing, Dr. Sadat Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the 24 hours ending at midday, Saturday, July 25:

- New coronavirus cases: 2,333

- New hospitalizations: 1,282

- Total cases since the outbreak: 291,172

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,327,850

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 253,213

- New fatalities: 216

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 15,700

 

July 28: 

In her daily briefing on July 28, the spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Health, Dr. Sadat Lari, announced that 235 people had died in the last 24 hours, a record for Iran. Twenty-six of 31 Iranian provinces are now officially on emergency (“red”) or severe (“orange”) alert for coronavirus. Among those 26 is Tehran province, Iran’s most highly-populated province. It’s the first time the area has been classified as being on emergency alert since the epidemic began.

And yet, government officials are still discussing how the country will mark Shia mourning ceremonies. There has not been any serious discussion of canceling the events, which are due to take place on July 31, August 7, and August 29. Instead, authorities have insisted that ceremonies on August 29, which mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, will be held with “passion” and claim health protocols for marking the ceremonies had already been put in place as of July 28. 

Two other significant religious occasions are due to take place before the August 29 ceremonies. Eid al-Adha, which honors the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, is due to take place on July 31, and Eid al-Ghadir, which commemorates the time when the Prophet Mohammad appointed Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the first Shia Imam, as his successor, will be marked on August 7. What safety measures should be put in place to mark these occasions continues to be a bone of contention between officials. Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raeesi said that nothing about these ceremonies has been finalized and if they are held at all they would be in a very limited manner. He reiterated that the health ministry is clear that large crowds should be banned during the these ceremonies, especially if they are held indoors. 

Contradicting this, the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s information office published its health protocols, stating that public mourning ceremonies are allowed in indoor spaces at specified times and for a limited number of hours in mosques and other religious sites, provided that these sites and their management are approved by provincial coronavirus taskforces.

 

All Hospital Facilities Being Used

In the early days following the outbreak in Tehran, six or seven hospitals in the capital were dealing with coronavirus patients. Today, many more hospitals are being used to deal with the crisis, including a private hospital with 1,000 beds. Furthermore, all hospitals in the country are required to have coronavirus wards, according to Deputy Health Minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei. He said two or three hospitals in each province are dedicated to coronavirus patients and, altogether, 200 hospitals in Iran offer medical services exclusively to Covid-19 patients.

On July 24, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a British-Australian academic serving a 10-year sentence in Iran for espionage, was moved to a remote prison south of Tehran that is said to be riddled with coronavirus cases, according to rights activists and Reza Khandan, who said he spoke to Moore-Gilbert by telephone. Her transfer to Gharchak, a notorious and isolated women’s detention facility southeast of the capital, raised further concerns about her deteriorating health.

 

Could Exams and Ceremonies Lead to a New Spike?

Some commentators have predicted that if the nationwide university entrance exams and public religious ceremonies take place as planned, there could be a 60 percent jump in the number of coronavirus cases. When pushed on the matter, Deputy Health Minister Raeesi did not provide a clear response. Instead, he talked in general terms about variables and the modeling on which these predictions had been based.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, speaker of the parliament, wrote to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, asking him to instruct the National Coronavirus Taskforce to include chairmen of the parliament’s health, education and social affairs committee as members so that they can argue their case against holding nationwide university entrance exams.

“We have no clear picture of what will happen with the coronavirus pandemic in Iran and, therefore, we cannot cancel or postpone any of the 2020 nationwide exams, including university entrance exams,” said Hossein Ghanbari, deputy health minister for educational affairs. He claimed efforts to cancel university entrance exams had created more stress for students and their families than worries about catching coronavirus had.

In a country as vast as Iran, no model of the epidemic can uniformly apply to all provinces and each province must be studied and managed according to its own cultural, economic, social and health system realities, said Health Minister Saeed Namaki.

 

Iran-Produced Vaccine

Namaki claimed to have good news about a homegrown vaccine for coronavirus, adding that Iran is catching up with advanced countries in terms of vaccine production. “We don’t want to make delusional comments and don’t want to say the vaccine will be available to the public until autumn,” he said. “Today, we can only say that we are not lagging behind many in the world who claim to have produced a vaccine.” He said Iran’s vaccine had “passed the initial tests and [we] hope to reach promising stages.” 

Describing the production of the vaccine as a result of teamwork, the health minister said Iranian experts should exchange and share findings so that Iran will be among the first countries making tangible progress. 

The minister also highlighted Iran’s success in synthesizing medicine for treatment of coronavirus despite the pressure of “cruel sanctions,” adding that two domestic pharmaceutical companies were ready to supply hospitals across the country with the antiviral medicine Remdesivir.

The head of the Food and Drug Administration of Iran said on Monday, July 28 that Iranian-produced Remdesivir would be put on the market within the next few days.

 

Provinces Round-up

Pointing out that Tehran’s situation is fragile and difficult, Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, announced on July 28 that all expositions and gatherings are banned because they pose high risks for people spreading the virus. He announced the extension of restrictions  in Tehran for at least one more week. He also reported that in the last 24 hours 684 new Covid-19 patients had been hospitalized in Tehran, including 124 people receiving medical attention in ICU wards.

After more than two months in a red state of alert, the situation in Khuzestan has improved. The province it now on “orange” alert, according to Dr. Farhad Abolnejadian, president of Ahvaz University of Medical Sciences.

Every day approximately 400 patients with acute respiratory conditions and coronavirus symptoms arrive at hospitals in Hamedan province, and between 100 and 120 of them are hospitalized, said Dr. Ebrahim Jalili, vice president of Hamedan University of Medical Sciences. According to him, as of July 28, 575 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in Hamedan and 36 doctors, 185 nurses and 64 other medical staff in the the province had been infected with coronavirus.

In the last 24 hours, 218 new coronavirus patients were identified in Markazi province, of whom 32 have been hospitalized, reported Mohammad Jamalian, president of Arak University of Medical Sciences. In the same 24 hours, he said, three other Covid-19 patients died, bringing the death toll in the province to 266.

 

The Daily Briefing

In her daily briefing, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman, reported that 26 of 31 Iranian provinces are now in red or orange states of alert, including Tehran, the most populous province in the country. On July 28, the province was labeled “red” for the first time since the first surge of coronavirus. She also reported that the number of daily hospitalizations was getting close to that of the first coronavirus peak in March.

She said the provinces of Tehran, Ardebil, Isfahan, Lorestan, Alborz, East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Razavi Khorasan, North Khorasan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman, Semnan, Hormozgan and Fars are in a red state of alert and the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, Bushehr, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Zanjan, Hamedan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Markazi, Yazd, Gilan and Qom are orange.

However, according to figures reported by provincial officials and universities of medical sciences, the provinces of South Khorasan, Qazvin, Hamedan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Bushehr and Markazi have been red, not orange, for the last few days, and according to the health ministry’s own criteria, the provinces of Kurdistan and Kermanshah must also be must added to the orange list.

In her daily briefing, Dr. Sadat Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the 24-hour period ending on July 28:

- New coronavirus cases: 2,667

- New hospitalizations: 1,687

- Total cases since the outbreak: 296,273

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,380,122

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 257,019

- New fatalities: 235

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 16,147

 

July 29 and 30: 

Leaked documents obtained by Amnesty International reveal that the Iranian government has ignored repeated pleas from senior prison officials for additional resources to control the spread of Covid-19 and treat infected prisoners.

The details outlined in official letters stand in stark contrast to public statements by the former head of the Prisons Organization and current advisor to the head of the judiciary, Asghar Jahangir, who has lauded Iran’s “exemplary” initiatives to protect prisoners from the pandemic. Jahangir also denied reports of increasing infection rates and Covid-19-related deaths inside prisons resulting from overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and lack of access to health care.

“Overcrowding, poor ventilation, lack of basic sanitation and medical equipment, and deliberate neglect of prisoners’ health problems are making Iranian prisons a perfect breeding ground for Covid-19,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Iranian authorities must stop denying the health crisis in Iran’s prisons and take urgent steps to protect prisoners’ health and lives.”

Iran’s Ministry of Roads announced that, starting on August 5, anyone arriving in Iran by air will only be allowed to enter the country if they have documentation stating that they have been tested negative for coronavirus, a move that was endorsed by Mohammad Reza Karimian, an official with Tehran’s Khomeini International Airport, who also made an announcement about the measure. The certificate must be in English, must have been issued by recognized health authorities in the country where the flight originated and cannot be more than 96 hours old.

According to the airport official, if arriving air passengers are Iranian and are suspected of having contracted coronavirus, they must be tested again and sign a commitment that they will quarantine themselves at home for 14 days. Passengers of other nationalities who show symptoms of Covid-19 but have no valid test results will be returned to the country where the flight originated. 

 

Contradictory Tactics, Information, and Announcements

Every day, more than 700 new cases of coronavirus are identified in the nation’s capital. Out of every 14 people hospitalized in Tehran, one dies. 

Health officials have continued to squabble over the the upcoming ceremonies to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein in late August. Health Minister Saeed Namaki met with Shia eulogists and preachers to discuss the matter, just as Alireza Raeesi, one of his deputies, had said only days before that he was against the idea of mourning processions and marches being held in public. Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi announced it would be “impossible” to hold Imam Hossein mourning ceremonies in the way the country had done in the past. 

President Rouhani also continued to share his strong views on the matter. “To those who say that the mourning ceremonies [for Imam Hossein] must be canceled, we say no, and we also say no to those who say these ceremonies will cause another wave of the epidemic,” he told a cabinet meeting. He added that all ceremonies would be held according to health guidelines. “If these protocols say we must mourn for three days instead of 20, we must comply, and if they say mourning ceremonies must last three hours instead of seven we must comply with that too.” During a National Coronavirus Taskforce meeting, President Rouhani claimed the guidelines for holding university entrance exams and mourning ceremonies for Imam Hossein were “fully in line with the World Health Organization's global standards.” He did report, however, that mourning ceremonies would use “new techniques” and some parts of the ceremonies would be transferred to “virtual online prayer halls.”

At a meeting with Shia eulogists, preachers and zaakers, professional narrators of the lives of Imams and especially the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, Health Minister Saeed Namaki appealed to them, asking them to help ensure Imam Hossein devotees did not catch fever and become ill. At the same time, he said, they would present a model of mourning that incorporates safety to the world.

On the same day, however, Alireza Raeesi asserted that the majority of the country was coping with coronavirus. But then he conceded that 26 provinces are in a red state of alert, adding that people should mourn at home or online and that the health ministry is categorically opposed to mourning processions and large gatherings because there is no doubt that social distancing would be impossible.

In a letter to President Rouhani, the Iranian Society of Medical Associations warned of danger of a contagion “explosion” and a greater number of fatalities in packed gatherings, including the nationwide university entrance exams and mourning ceremonies. The current daily death toll is 200, with 2,000 cases being reported , the letter continued, so if health guidelines are not observed properly in the next three months, Iran could witness a death toll as high as 1,600 per day.

As of Wednesday, July 29, more than 6,000 medical staff had been infected with coronavirus and 140 of them have diedas a result, announced Ali Fattahi, vice president of the Iranian Medical Council. Nurses comprised 22 percent, general practitioners 20 percent, internal medicine specialists represented eight percent and gynecologists five percent of this total.

According to Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, 26 provinces, home to 72 million Iranians, are in a red or orange state of alert, and the rate of hospitalizations across the country is now close to 4,000 per day, which translates into five hospitalizations per 100,000 of the population. Since February 20, he said, coronavirus fatalities in Iran have averaged 102 per day. He confirmed that the figures of coronavirus cases only reflect those whose tests have been positive.

Harirchi did not clarify whether the “positive test results” criteria applied to fatalities as well. If it does, it means that officials have been undercounting coronavirus fatalities to a significant degree. He warned that Iran has only 130,000 hospital beds for a population of 84 million but, according to him, the real disaster lies in the number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds. Currently, there is only one ICU bed per every 100,000 of the population.

 

Crisis in the Capital

In Tehran, which has become a significant source of the contagion and considered to be on emergency alert, one out of each 14 hospitalized coronavirus patients dies, according to Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi. He said this shows that warnings by his boss Saeed Namaki were warranted and that his predictions had now come true. However, he did not say what the health ministry had done to prevent the situation apart from issue warnings.

According to Harirchi, in the 24 hours preceding midday on July 30, 710 new coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Tehran. He also reported that 7.5 percent of all Covid-19 patients in Tehran province who are hospitalized die. In addition, the rate of fatalities in patients over 90 years of age is very high and the rate of fatalities within a patient age group of between 60 and 69 years old is 10 percent.

It was reported that Ali Larijani, former speaker of the parliament and a current member of the Expediency Council, who had been quarantined for coronavirus in March, has now been infected for a second time and has been hospitalized in Tehran’s Masih Daneshvari Hospital. He is said to be in a “good condition.”

Quoting the results of a recent survey, Zali said if the mosques were reopened, a considerable number of people in Tehran would choose not to worship in them. He also reported that currently about 900,000 people were using Tehran’s metro system, and 1,600,000 people use other forms of public transportation. At a meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, it was decided that Tehran's limited traffic zone scheme should be suspended for one week.

The city of Karaj is in a situation similar to neighboring Tehran, making it more difficult for the nation’s capital to contain the coronavirus, warned Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce. 

Tehran’s Sina hospital is filled to capacity and one third, or about 350 of the hospital's medical staff, had contracted coronavirus, said Dr. Mohammad Talebpour, the president of the hospital. According to him, the hospital has lost count of the number of patients because it changes on a daily basis. “The problem is we have no empty beds left,” he said. “Sometimes we are 10 and 20 percent over capacity and this influx of coronavirus and non-coronavirus patients has made it more difficult to manage the situation.”

 

Provinces Round-up

He is not, however, alone. Presidents of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini and Firoozgar hospitals also report that they have been dealing with increased numbers of coronavirus patients, a situation that is threatening to overwhelm their facilities.

In Fars province, which was declared a red zone in the last week of July, the number of coronavirus fatalities has been rising. According to Abdolrasoul Hemmati, vice president of Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, in the 24 hours before July 29, 19 more people died of coronavirus in the province. A day earlier, he said, 12 had died, bringing the official death toll in the province to 500.

Dr. Hemmati also reported that currently 1,057 coronavirus patients have been hospitalized in Fars province, Out of those, 108 are in ICU wards.

In Mazandaran province the rate of coronavirus infections have been rising as well and, as of July 30, more than 1,900 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in hospitals run by Mazandaran and Babol universities of medical sciences. In just 24 hours, 304 new coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the province.

The province of Qazvin was in a red state of alert at the end of July. However, it has not been mentioned in Iran’s official statistics. In the 24 hours leading up to July 30, 113 tested positive for coronavirus and 40 were hospitalized, bringing the total number of hospitalizations in the province to 275, according to Dr. Peyman Namdar, president of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences. According to him, by the end of the month, 30 patients were hooked up to ventilators, and 15 other patients were waiting for ICU beds.

Reporting that the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths in Qazvin reached 402, he said: “We can be sure that others who have died with coronavirus symptoms and with positive results from CT scans are not included in these statistics.” He claimed that, according to the World Health Organization, only those with positive coronavirus test results have been included in the statistics. Namdar’s comments echo what many other professionals and experts have said, that Iran’s policy for reporting coronavirus cases, insisting on only including cases where a positive result is available, has resulted in a severe undercounting of coronavirus cases in Iran.

In late July, the situation in Bushehr was relatively stable, but on July 30, Saeed Kashmiri, the secretary of Bushehr Coronavirus Taskforce, reported that in the last 24 hours 67 new Covid-19 patients had been hospitalized, bringing the total coronavirus hospitalizations in the province to 313. He also reported that of 53 Covid-19 patients in ICU wards, 23 were breathing with the help of ventilators.

 

Daily Briefing

In her daily briefing on July 30, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman, reported that the provinces of Tehran, Ardebil, Isfahan, Lorestan, Alborz, East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Razavi Khorasan, North Khorasan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman, Semnan, Hormozgan are in a red state of alert, and the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Khuzestan, Bushehr, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Zanjan, Hamedan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Markazi, Yazd, Gilan and Qom are orange.

Yet, as has been the case for at least two months, reports by provincial officials and universities of medical sciences indicate a different picture. According to their figures, the provinces of South Khorasan, Qazvin, Hamedan, Sistan and Baluchistan, Bushehr and Markazi have also been in a red state of alert for several days and the provinces of Kurdistan and Kermanshah must be listed as “orange” as well.

In her daily briefing, Dr. Sadat Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the 24 hours ending at midday, July 30:

 

- New coronavirus cases: 2,674

- New hospitalizations: 1,523

- Total cases since the outbreak: 304,204

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,456,909

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 261,200

- New fatalities: 197

- Total death toll since the outbreak:16,766

 

This is part of IranWire's coronavirus chronology. Read the full chronology

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