August 2 and 3: 

The coronavirus crisis continues in Tehran, with the death toll reaching close to 100 on a daily basis over the last two weeks.  

IranWire receives daily figures for fatalities in Tehran through its own exclusive sources, from Behesht Zahra Cemetery, which bases its figures on death certificates it issues for bodies arriving there for burial. According to these figures, between February 20 and August 2, the Covid-19 death toll in Iran has been approximately 8,700.

Dr. Alireza Zali, director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce was again hesitant to claim the virus was under control in Iran, and said that any assertions of a “victory over coronavirus” would be hasty, misleading, and driven by emotions rather than an accurate assessment. There can be no doubt that this contagion “will come in several waves” and the only way to cope with it is to break the transmission chain, he said.

One third of the medical staff of Sina Hospital in Tehran have been infected with coronavirus. Every day an average of 100 Covid-19 patients arrive at the hospital, according to the hospital’s president, Dr. Mohammad Talebpour. Like many Iranian government officials before him, Dr. Talebpour played down the government’s failure to control the pandemic and blamed ordinary people for the crisis, who he said were ignoring health protocols. 

Iranian health officials cannot agree on what to call what is happening to the country at the moment. Is it a “second wave” or a “second peak” or neither? They regularly contradict one another, and themselves. On August 3, without referring to any of these terms, the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that Qom witnessed a big surge of the epidemic in March, which then receded, but since June the number of infections and hospitalizations in Qom has risen again and there is the possibility that this could lead to another surge.

 

Exams Set to go Ahead…

Political wrangling over nationwide university entrance exams continues. Members of parliament who have been silent about the forthcoming ceremonies to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein and whether or not it is safe for them to go ahead have been quite vocal about the entrance exams, demanding that health ministry and science ministry officials explain themselves for their decisions that exams will take place. 

Pointing out that health protocols were not followed during PhD entrance exams, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, speaker of the parliament, said he and other officials were concerned that the same thing would happen during nationwide entrance exams. He called for the exams to be postponed until after the current coronavirus peak, and until the colder season arrives so that students can endure wearing a mask for hours.

At the same, parliament has set aside its emergency bill to postpone exams and Senior Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi defended the plan for exams to go ahead. He said the number of participants is fewer people than a day's crowd on a Caspian Sea beach — an argument drawing a parallel between people who ignore the threat of coronavirus to spend leisure time on the beach and students who will be forced to take exams in closed spaces.

Nevertheless, both the government and the National Coronavirus Taskforce insist on holding both the nationwide entrance exams and the upcoming Imam Hossein mourning ceremonies. They do not consider these numbers of people in one space to be violating limits on the size of the gatherings or other health protocols. On the other hand, independent experts consider this policy to be disastrous.

For instance, in a letter to President Rouhani, the Islamic Association of Iranian Medical Society pointed out that all efforts to control the pandemic have failed and making gatherings conditional on following health protocols is “a contradiction in terms” because crowds are by nature fertile grounds for the transmission of the virus. It said to control the pandemic, any and all gatherings must be banned.

On the same day, the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee suggested university entrance exams be held in open spaces, namely sports stadiums. And sports minister Masoud Soltanifar announced that 8,000 outdoor and indoor sports arenas across Iran will be made available to the National Educational Testing Organization.

However, Health Minister Saeed Namaki rejected appeals to postpone entrance exams until “better days” because, according to him, the situation in the fall will be even more difficult. He said the decision to hold exams must be taken as soon as possible because the uncertainty will create anxiety for students and a long period of anxiety would lower immunity and make students more vulnerable to coronavirus.

Nevertheless, he stated he was still uncertain about the exams because necessary preparations must be made in order to hold them in open spaces, including shutting down phone and internet connections during the hours of testing providing participants with health kits. It appeared that the minister was not confident these preparations could be taken in time for the exams to go ahead in these new circumstances. 

According to a report by the health ministry’s Covid-19 Epidemiology Committee, coronavirus infections and fatalities across the country are rising. In the six provinces of Zanjan, Lorestan, Ardebil, Fars, Tehran and East Azerbaijan, the curve of infections and fatalities is flat but at a high level. This curve is rising in the four provinces of Mazandaran, Isfahan, Alborz and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari where the peak might have started and in Yazd province with slight variations. According to the report, it appears that the three provinces of Bushehr, Markazi and Hamedan have recently witnessed a peak of the pandemic.

On the other hand, states the report, curve is falling in the four provinces of Khuzestan, West Azerbaijan, Golestan and South Khorasan and in the three provinces of Hormozgan, Kurdistan and Gilan the situation is relatively stable with small declines in the number of cases. However, the inconsistencies in the data from the eight provinces of Ilam, Kermanshah, North Khorasan, Semnan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Kerman, Razavi Khorasan and Qazvin do not allow a reliable assessment.

The epidemic has been surging in Mazandaran for more than a month and now 20 cities in the province are in a red state of alert and two are “orange”, announced Mazandaran Coronavirus Taskforce. In the past 6 weeks, said the taskforce, number of infections and hospitalizations in the province quadrupled and the surge in cases and hospitalizations is alarming.

The second wave of coronavirus in the city of Babol in Mazandaran has caused many more infections than the first wave and close to 40 percent of hospital beds in the city are occupied by Covid-19 patients, reported Farhad Bagherian, an official of Babol University of Medical Sciences. He said that people’s fear of catching coronavirus has made them afraid of going to hospitals for treatment and this causes the condition of the patient to deteriorate and would end in the patient’s death.

Recently the province of Qom was again declared an “orange” zone and Siamak Mohebi, vice president of Qom University of Medical Sciences, reported that positive coronavirus test results and hospitalizations in the province continue to rise. He warned that there can be no doubt that if this trend continues for another week Qom would return to a red state of alert and the province’s health system would have a difficult time in coping with the situation.

The red alert in East Azerbaijan has been in place for a long time and today Ali-Yar Rastgoo, deputy governor of the province, announced that currently 770 coronavirus patients are hospitalized across East Azerbaijan and most of the cities in the province are in a state of red alert. But, on the same day, Abbas Ali Dorosti, vice president of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, complained that, despite the university’s warnings and written requests, the government of East Azerbaijan is allowing exhibitions to be held in the province.

If health precautions are violated during the upcoming mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hossein and the ceremonies lead to the spread of the virus, it would be wrong under sharia laws because if something is voluntary but causes harm to others it is forbidden by the laws of Islam.

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

As usual, however, we must point out that this list is not accurate. According to reports by provincial officials and universities of medical sciences, provinces of South Khorasan, Qazvin, Hamedan, Sistan and Baluchestan and Bushehr have also been in a red state of alert for several days and provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Khuzestan must be added to the “orange” list as well.

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

 

- New coronavirus cases: 2,598

- New hospitalizations: 1,304

- Total cases since the outbreak: 312,035

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,534,658

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 270,228

- New fatalities: 215

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 17,405

 

August 8 and 9:

Iran's Health Ministry says that fatalities from Covid-19 are on a downward curve but that the situation in Tehran and Qom is still critical. Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, warns that if the people of Qom do not wear masks they are bound to repeat the painful situation of February and March. But, while Dr. Lari is advising people to wear masks, the chairman of parliament’s Health Committee says that 40 to 50 percent of Iranians cannot even afford masks.

Meanwhile, it is reported that the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a Shia spiritual leader with a huge following around the world, including in Iraq, ehere he is based, has provided Iran with a billion dollars to help the country fight the epidemic. At the same time, the Dr. Lari says that, of the one billion dollars from Iran’s own National Development Fund that had been allocated to fight coronavirus, only 30 percent had been received so far.

There have also been rumors that Iranian-made medicines have not been effective in treating Covid-19 patients. Denying the rumors, Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration, said that only one percent of the drugs used in treating Covid-19 patients were produced in Iran and that domestically-produced Remdesivir had yet to enter the market.

Shanehsaz added the claim that a Russian-made coronavirus vaccine can make a person immune for 73 days; but it must be injected four times a year, making it unwieldy to use. As a result, he said, a number of teams in Iran are working to develop a vaccine and they are using different methods.

The only way to stop coronavirus is to wear masks, said Dr. Hossein Ali Shahriari, chairman of parliament’s Health Committee, but he added that 40 to 50 percent of Iranians cannot afford them and that they must be given masks for free.

Dr. Shahriari also mentioned the fact that that the office of Grand Ayatollah Sistani had contributed a billion dollars to Iran to help the country fight coronavirus. Part of the funds had been used to buy medical equipment for some cities in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan.

In a letter to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on March 26, President Hassan Rouhani asked him to allow a billion dollars from the National Development Fund to be used to fight the epidemic. Khamenei waited 11 days before he agreed to the request. But on July 8, three months later, Health Minister Saeed Namaki reported that the government had received only 30 percent of this billion dollars.

In other words, a religious leader who lives in another country has contributed more funds to fight coronavirus in Iran that the Iranian government, the religious establishment and the National Development Fund combined.

For Shia Muslims, Eid al-Ghadir, which fell on August 7 to August 8, is a major occasion that celebrates the day when the Prophet Muhammad was said to have appointed his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Taleb, the first Shia imam, as his successor. The public relations office of Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport reported that, with the start of the Eid al-Ghadir holidays, the number of flights out of the airport had increased significantly and exceeded 350 flights a day, carrying over 35,000 passengers.

Ebrahim Khodaei, president of the National Testing Organization, reported that this year’s nationwide university entrance exams will be held in prayer grounds and stadiums with enough open space. He said that each participant in these exams will be given a hygiene kit and that they would be seated two meters apart from each other. His only worry is that families may gather outside the makeshift testing places – putting people of multiple households in close proximity to each other.

More than 225,000 participants have meanwhile already taken exams to study for a master’s degree. Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raeesi claimed that 91 percent of 83,000 of them, who have answered a questionnaire, believe that health protocols had been properly observed during the exams.

Mohammad Qomi, head of Iran's Islamic Development Organization, claimed that holding upcoming ceremonies to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, another Shia saint and a major fixture in Iran’s religious calendar, is a “people’s demand” because most Iranians want to mark the occasion and that calls to cancel these gatherings must not be presented as mainstream public sentiment.

In recent days the number of hospitalizations related to Covid-19 in Tehran province have slightly fallen. Bit Tehran itself and a number of other cities in the province are still in a state of high alert and, therefore, mourning processions are not allowed and mourning ceremonies can only be held in open spaces with proper air circulation, announced Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, the governor of Tehran province.

Last week’s restrictions in Tehran province have been renewed for another week, Mohseni Bandpey said. He also reported that, as of August 6, 3,936 patients were hospitalized in the province and in the past 24 hours 54 Covid-19 patients have died.

But as usual these numbers, as announced by the governor, are doctored figures. According to daily figures registered by Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery, based on death certificates issued by doctors – a copy of which is regularly sent to the governor’s office every day – in the hospitals of just the city of Tehran, not even counting the province, more than 90 people died because of Covid-19 each day from August 4 to August 6. And to this number we must add the number of Covid-19 fatalities in other cities of Tehran province to arrive at the true figure – a number that Iranian officials hide on a regular basis for political reasons and to create a false sense of calm among people.

According to same figures, registered by Behesht Zahra Cemetery, between February 20 and August 6 and only in the city of Tehran, 9,040 patients died from coronavirus; 5,570 were men and 3,470 were women. The figures show that 6,587 of these fatalities were buried in Behesht Zahra and 2,453 were buried in other cemeteries in Tehran or in other provinces.

The Health Ministry spokeswoman, Dr. Lari, said that eight cities in the province of Azerbaijan are still in a state of red alert and two are at orange. But it is expected that in the coming weeks the province will stand down from red alert. According to her, the number of infections and hospitalizations are highest in the big cities of the province such as Tabriz, Maragheh, Mianeh, Sarab and Jolfa.

Mohammad Reza Ghadir, president of Qom University of Medical Sciences, reported that during the 24 hours before midday of August 7, eight Covid-19 patients in the province had died. According to him, during the same period, 101 new coronavirus cases were identified of whom 48 were hospitalized, bringing the total number of hospitalizations in Qom to 355, 70 of them in a critical condition.

Abdolrasoul Hemmati, vice president of Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, reported on August 7 that in the previous 24 hours, 11 Covid-19 patients had died, bringing the total death toll in the province to 588 people. According to him, the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations has reached 904, of whom 107 are in ICU wards because they were in critical condition. He reported that since the outbreak of coronavirus 225,050 coronavirus tests had been conducted of which 35,519 were positive.

Hospitals and treatment centers in the city of Ardakan in Fars province have been filled to capacity and they have no empty beds, said Mohammad Reza Dashti, member of parliament from Ardakan.

The cities of Rasht, Astara, Langarud and Lahijan in Gilan are on red alert and the rest of the cities in the province are in an orange state of alert, reported Abtin Heydarzadeh, vice president of Gilan University of Medical Sciences, who said that, for all practical purposes, no city in the province is free from coronavirus.

In her daily briefing, the Health Ministry spokeswoman Dr. Lari said that the provinces of Mazandaran, Tehran, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Qom, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan are in a red state of alert. The provinces of Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad are on an orange alert.

Dr. Sadat Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:

 

- New coronavirus cases: 5,084

- New hospitalizations: 1,145

- Total cases since the outbreak: 322,567

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,637,575

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 279,724

- New fatalities: 156

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 18,132

 

August 10 and 11:

Iran shut down a newspaper on August 10 after it published an interview about the true numbers of deaths from Covid-19 and the government’s failure to warn the public early enough.

"The figures announced by the officials on coronavirus cases and deaths account for only five percent of the country’s real tolls,” epidemiologist Mohammadreza Mahboub-Far told the newspaper in an interview, which was published on Sunday, August 9.

“The Jahan-e Sanat newspaper was shut down today for publishing an interview on Sunday,” the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Mohammadreza Saadi, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 

Mahboub-Far, a former member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, also said authorities had detected that the coronavirus was present in Iran in January, and yet Iran announced its first infections and two deaths from the virus on February 19.

“There was no transparent flow of information...The government provided engineered figures...over concerns about (its impact) on the election and the commemorations of the revolution anniversary,” Mahboub-Far told the daily.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ehsan Mostafavi, the head of Iran's Pasteur Institute research center, corroborated Mahboub-Far's statements about the early outbreak in Iran, agreeing that the virus began spreading a month before the official announcement in February. According to studies carried out by the health ministry, he said, as of August 10, 20 to 25 percent of Iran’s population had been infected with coronavirus.

Mostafavi said it was possible that people could be re-infected with coronavirus and warned that coronavirus is four to five times more lethal than the seasonal flu. He added that, across the world, it is assumed that the number of coronavirus cases is dozens or even hundreds times larger than official figures and that fatalities are higher than what the World Health Organization has announced.

More young people are becoming infected with coronavirus than at the time the epidemic began, reported Dr. Khosrow Sadeghniat, president of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Hospital. He said both the number of patients in critical condition who need hospitalization and number of health workers who have been infected rise every day.

 

More Experts Ignored as Exams Set to Go Ahead

After several weeks of political wrangling, on August 11, the National Coronavirus Taskforce announced that nationwide university entrance exams will go ahead as planned, rejecting a request from the Ministry of Science and Technology for them to be be postponed for a month to protect the public’s health. Exams will be held as scheduled from August 19 to August 22.  

According to a post on Instagram by Health Minister Saeed Namaki, the ministry’s formal request to postpone exams was put forth on Monday, August 10 following a meeting of the chairmen of the parliament’s health and science committees, the minister of science, the head of the National Testing Organization and officials from the health ministry and the ministry of science.

 

Mourning Ceremonies

During the Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram, which this year starts on August 20, Shias mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam, in 680 AD, traditionally holding large ceremonies and processions. As with university entrance exams, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has consistently adopted a controversial stance on the matter, ruling that the ceremonies can go ahead amid widespread criticism.

On August 11, Ali Maher, the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s deputy for planning, conceded that compliance with health protocols during Muharram ceremonies would not reduce the chances of coronavirus infection to zero and admitted that any kind of gathering is dangerous. He emphasized that, despite its decision, the taskforce maintains its belief that people should not participate in ceremonies and warned that if people flout health protocols, security and police authorities would deal with the offenders.

 

Health Minister Warns of Decisive Action if People Ignore Guidelines

Reiterating the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s warning, health minister Saeed Namaki told health officials from the region and the World Health Organization that Iran had adopted a tough line with people who violate health guidelines, and that people who failed to comply with government-issued rules would face fines. In an online meeting with the World Health Organization's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Director Ahmed Al-Mandhari and the health ministers from the Eastern Mediterranean countries, he insisted that the government’s policy is to drive home the idea that the situation in Iran had not returned to normal and that people following health guidelines is of utmost importance. 

Namaki also proposed to extend the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean cooperation program against Covid-19 to more countries in West Asia.

Health experts believe the government’s failure to quarantine infected areas and its reluctance to impose serious restrictions prompted the persistent coronavirus peak in Iran. First Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi defended the government, explaining that economic problems had tied its hands when it came to imposing strict restrictions.

He claimed the new surge in the epidemic occurred in early June when compliance with health protocols fell to around 20 percent. However, he said, currently the compliance rate had risen again to between 70 and 80 percent. According to Harirchi, the number of hospitalizations had fallen to around 2,000 per day. And yet the coronavirus is spreading three to nine times faster than it had been. 

Political prisoners in Iran — including prominent labor leaders Esmail Abdi and Jafar Azimzadeh, the human rights attorney Amir Salar Davoudi, and the journalist Majid Azarpey — are contracting the Covid-19 virus at alarming rates, reported the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“By keeping political prisoners in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons where they are denied medical care and are not separated from ill prisoners, the Iranian authorities are condemning these individuals to Covid-19 and possible death,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.

 

Provinces Round-up

A deputy health minister warned that coronavirus is spreading nine times faster than it had been previously and, according to official statistics, the Covid-19 death toll continues to rise in the provinces of Fars, Kerman, Markazi and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari.

After nine weeks in a red state of alert, Khuzestan province has been on a lower level of alert for a short period, but officials worry that the situation could become critical again. Mohammad Alavi, vice president of Ahvaz University of Medical Sciences, warned that, considering that all neighboring provinces are in red or orange states of alert, if people participate in gatherings, refuse to wear masks and fail to observe social distancing, the pandemic will return with greater force, as has happened in Tehran and provinces in northern Iran. 

Tehran is still in a red state of alert, and Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, described the situation in the nation’s capital as fragile and said it was vital to wait for two or three weeks to ensure the decline in infections and hospitalizations signal meaningful change. He also reported that restrictions, including a ban on gatherings of more 10 people and the lockdown of sports facilities, had been extended until August 14.

According to Dr. Zali, as of August 11, 559 new coronavirus patients had been hospitalized in Tehran, 109 of them in ICU wards.

He opposed plans for schoolchildren to return to the classroom, saying it was too risky, and stated that government employees must work remotely as much as possible. Under the current conditions, he said, it was not possible to observe social distancing rules on metros or on buses.

The number of infections and fatalities in Fars province is again on the rise, according to Ruhollah Hosseini, director of public relations for Fars University of Medical Sciences. He reported that, as of August 10, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Fars had reached 36,486, of whom 633 had died. In the last 48 hours two Covid-19 patients had died every two hours, he said. 

The province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari is in a critical situation and, compared to many other provinces, has suffered a more virulent surge of the pandemic, according to Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman. According to Dr. Lari, in the last two months the number of cases and hospitalizations in the province had doubled and the upward trend of the pandemic in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari was alarming.

Mehdi Shafiei, spokesman for Kerman University of Medical Sciences, said on August 10 that in the last 24 hours, 78 new coronavirus patients had been hospitalized in Kerman, bringing the total Covid-19 hospitalizations in the province to 331. Eleven more patients have died, he reported. 

In Markazi province 129 more people had been diagnosed with coronavirus and the number of fatalities has risen, reported Mohammad Jamalian, president of Arak University of Medical Sciences. He said Arak had the third highest number of senior citizens in the country and is a travel hub that attracts many visitors. Consequently, he said, the death toll in the province had increased.

Hormozgan province is still experiencing a peak in coronavirus even though the infections have slightly declined, warned Fatemeh Noroozian, director of public relations for Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. On August 10, she reported that in the last 24 hours another nine Covid-19 patients had died, bringing the total death toll in the province to 614.

Birthday parties and wedding and mourning ceremonies in Mazandaran have led to the spread of the pandemic in the province, said Abbas Mousavi, president of Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences. He reported that 12 health workers in Mazandaran had died from Covid-19 and said the lives of medical staff can only be protected if people observe health guidelines.


Daily Briefing

In her daily briefing, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said the 15 provinces of Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardabil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan are in a red state of alert and the 11 provinces of Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad are in an orange state.

In daily briefings on August 10 and August 11, she also reported the official coronavirus statistics for the last 48 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 4,477

- New hospitalizations: 2,236

- Total cases since the outbreak: 331,189

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,736,514

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 288,620

- New fatalities: 373

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 18,800

 

August 10 and 11: 

Iran shut down a newspaper on August 10 after it published an interview about the true numbers of deaths from Covid-19 and the government’s failure to warn the public early enough.

"The figures announced by the officials on coronavirus cases and deaths account for only five percent of the country’s real tolls,” epidemiologist Mohammadreza Mahboub-Far told the newspaper in an interview, which was published on Sunday, August 9.

“The Jahan-e Sanat newspaper was shut down today for publishing an interview on Sunday,” the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Mohammadreza Saadi, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 

Mahboub-Far, a former member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, also said authorities had detected that the coronavirus was present in Iran in January, and yet Iran announced its first infections and two deaths from the virus on February 19.

“There was no transparent flow of information...The government provided engineered figures...over concerns about (its impact) on the election and the commemorations of the revolution anniversary,” Mahboub-Far told the daily.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ehsan Mostafavi, the head of Iran's Pasteur Institute research center, corroborated Mahboub-Far's statements about the early outbreak in Iran, agreeing that the virus began spreading a month before the official announcement in February. According to studies carried out by the health ministry, he said, as of August 10, 20 to 25 percent of Iran’s population had been infected with coronavirus.

Mostafavi said it was possible that people could be re-infected with coronavirus and warned that coronavirus is four to five times more lethal than the seasonal flu. He added that, across the world, it is assumed that the number of coronavirus cases is dozens or even hundreds times larger than official figures and that fatalities are higher than what the World Health Organization has announced.

More young people are becoming infected with coronavirus than at the time the epidemic began, reported Dr. Khosrow Sadeghniat, president of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Hospital. He said both the number of patients in critical condition who need hospitalization and number of health workers who have been infected rise every day.

 

More Experts Ignored as Exams Set to Go Ahead

After several weeks of political wrangling, on August 11, the National Coronavirus Taskforce announced that nationwide university entrance exams will go ahead as planned, rejecting a request from the Ministry of Science and Technology for them to be be postponed for a month to protect the public’s health. Exams will be held as scheduled from August 19 to August 22,  

According to a post on Instagram by Health Minister Saeed Namaki, the ministry’s formal request to postpone exams was put forth on Monday, August 10 following a meeting of the chairmen of the parliament’s health and science committees, the minister of science, the head of the National Testing Organization and officials from the health ministry and the ministry of science.

 

Mourning Ceremonies

During the Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram, which this year starts on August 20, Shias mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam, in 680 AD, traditionally holding large ceremonies and processions. As with university entrance exams, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has consistently adopted a controversial stance on the matter, ruling that the ceremonies can go ahead amid widespread criticism.

On August 11, Ali Maher, the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s deputy for planning, conceded that compliance with health protocols during Muharram ceremonies would not reduce the chances of coronavirus infection to zero and admitted that any kind of gathering is dangerous. He emphasized that, despite its decision, the taskforce maintains its belief that people should not participate in ceremonies and warned that if people flout health protocols, security and police authorities would deal with the offenders.

 

Health Minister Warns of Decisive Action if People Ignore Guidelines

Reiterating the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s warning, health minister Saeed Namaki told health officials from the region and the World Health Organization that Iran had adopted a tough line with people who violate health guidelines, and that people who failed to comply with government-issued rules would face fines. In an online meeting with the World Health Organization's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Director Ahmed Al-Mandhari and the health ministers from the Eastern Mediterranean countries, he insisted that the government’s policy is to drive home the idea that the situation in Iran had not returned to normal and that people following health guidelines is of utmost importance. 

Namaki also proposed to extend the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean cooperation program against Covid-19 to more countries in West Asia.

Health experts believe the government’s failure to quarantine infected areas and its reluctance to impose serious restrictions prompted the persistent coronavirus peak in Iran. First Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi defended the government, explaining that economic problems had tied its hands when it came to imposing strict restrictions.

He claimed the new surge in the epidemic occurred in early June when compliance with health protocols fell to around 20 percent. However, he said, currently the compliance rate had risen again to between 70 and 80 percent. According to Harirchi, the number of hospitalizations had fallen to around 2,000 per day. And yet the coronavirus is spreading three to nine times faster than it had been. 

Political prisoners in Iran — including prominent labor leaders Esmail Abdi and Jafar Azimzadeh, the human rights attorney Amir Salar Davoudi, and the journalist Majid Azarpey — are contracting the Covid-19 virus at alarming rates, reported the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“By keeping political prisoners in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons where they are denied medical care and are not separated from ill prisoners, the Iranian authorities are condemning these individuals to Covid-19 and possible death,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.

 

Provinces Round-up

A deputy health minister warned that coronavirus is spreading nine times faster than it had been previously and, according to official statistics, the Covid-19 death toll continues to rise in the provinces of Fars, Kerman, Markazi and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari.

After nine weeks in a red state of alert, Khuzestan province has been on a lower level of alert for a short period, but officials worry that the situation could become critical again. Mohammad Alavi, vice president of Ahvaz University of Medical Sciences, warned that, considering that all neighboring provinces are in red or orange states of alert, if people participate in gatherings, refuse to wear masks and fail to observe social distancing, the pandemic will return with greater force, as has happened in Tehran and provinces in northern Iran. 

Tehran is still in a red state of alert, and Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, described the situation in the nation’s capital as fragile and said it was vital to wait for two or three weeks to ensure the decline in infections and hospitalizations signal meaningful change. He also reported that restrictions, including a ban on gatherings of more 10 people and the lockdown of sports facilities, had been extended until August 14.

According to Dr. Zali, as of August 11, 559 new coronavirus patients had been hospitalized in Tehran, 109 of them in ICU wards.

He opposed plans for schoolchildren to return to the classroom, saying it was too risky, and stated that government employees must work remotely as much as possible. Under the current conditions, he said, it was not possible to observe social distancing rules on metros or on buses.

The number of infections and fatalities in Fars province is again on the rise, according to Ruhollah Hosseini, director of public relations for Fars University of Medical Sciences. He reported that, as of August 10, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Fars had reached 36,486, of whom 633 had died. In the last 48 hours two Covid-19 patients had died every two hours, he said. 

The province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari is in a critical situation and, compared to many other provinces, has suffered a more virulent surge of the pandemic, according to Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman. According to Dr. Lari, in the last two months the number of cases and hospitalizations in the province had doubled and the upward trend of the pandemic in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari was alarming.

Mehdi Shafiei, spokesman for Kerman University of Medical Sciences, said on August 10 that in the last 24 hours, 78 new coronavirus patients had been hospitalized in Kerman, bringing the total Covid-19 hospitalizations in the province to 331. Eleven more patients have died, he reported. 

In Markazi province 129 more people had been diagnosed with coronavirus and the number of fatalities has risen, reported Mohammad Jamalian, president of Arak University of Medical Sciences. He said Arak had the third highest number of senior citizens in the country and is a travel hub that attracts many visitors. Consequently, he said, the death toll in the province had increased.

Hormozgan province is still experiencing a peak in coronavirus even though the infections have slightly declined, warned Fatemeh Noroozian, director of public relations for Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. On August 10, she reported that in the last 24 hours another nine Covid-19 patients had died, bringing the total death toll in the province to 614.

Birthday parties and wedding and mourning ceremonies in Mazandaran have led to the spread of the pandemic in the province, said Abbas Mousavi, president of Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences. He reported that 12 health workers in Mazandaran had died from Covid-19 and said the lives of medical staff can only be protected if people observe health guidelines.


Daily Briefing

In her daily briefing, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said the 15 provinces of Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardabil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan are in a red state of alert and the 11 provinces of Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad are in an orange state.

In daily briefings on August 10 and August 11, she also reported the official coronavirus statistics for the last 48 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 4,477

- New hospitalizations: 2,236

- Total cases since the outbreak: 331,189

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,736,514

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 288,620

- New fatalities: 373

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 18,800

 

 

August 12 and 13:

Domestic Abuse Exacerbated by Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Iran’s domestic abuse problem, the Atlantic Council reported. The Iran Welfare Organization (IWO), a state agency tasked with women and children’s affairs, has repeatedly warned of a sharp surge in domestic violence amid the pandemic, as people have been encouraged to stay home. An article in the Tehran daily Hamshahri speculated that the number of child abuse cases has grown five times since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The organization has yet to release nationwide statistics detailing the situation, but regional IWO managers have been outspoken in their efforts to raise awareness about the crisis.

Mohsen Marvi, the head of the IWO office in the northeastern city of Mashhad, said: “during the first four months of the outbreak in Iran, 1,932 child abuse cases were reported in Mashhad —an eight-fold increase compared to a year earlier.” He added that domestic violence cases, including elderly and disability abuse, have also surged. IWO’s hotlines in Mashhad received 32,141 emergency calls in four months alone — a 30-fold increase. During that period, emergency teams had to be dispatched 612 times.

 

Muharram Restrictions 

The Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram, which this year starts on August 20, has sparked worries about the upcoming ceremonies to mourn the martyrdom of the third Shia Imam. Anxieties also persist about the scheduled nationwide university entrance exams. Dr. Mostafa Moin, president of Iran’s Medical Council, warned President Rouhani that effective social distancing during ceremonies and exams were impossible. Infections and fatalities are bound to rise significantly, he said. 

Dr. Moin said if it were up to him he would not allow any celebrations or mourning ceremonies to take place in Iran. This was the humane and moral thing to do, he said. “If we have not been able to observe health protocols in a bakery line of 10 people, how can we observe them in a crowd of a million people?” he asked.

University entrance exams are scheduled to be held between August 19 and August 22. According to Hossein Ali Shahriari, chairman of the parliament’s Health Committee, the health minister had informed the ministry of science that it cannot implement the necessary health protocols before August 22 and yet the minister of science announced that the entrance exams will not be postponed because President Rouhani had ordered that they must be held as scheduled.

Imposing restrictions on Muharram ceremonies is “against the constitution,” claimed Mohammad Taghi Naghdali, member of parliament from Khomeini Shahr in Isfahan province. Speaking on the floor of parliament, he said: “Article 79 of the constitution states that any restriction must be approved by the parliament,” and insisted that a failure to obtain approval was a violation. 

 

Vaccine on the Way? 

The official Coronavirus death toll in Iran passed 19,000 and 248 cities remain in a high state of alert. While the prospects look dim, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that Iran has its “shopping basket” ready to buy a vaccine when it became internationally available. According to Namaki, Iran had also joined a World Health Organization group so that procurement of such a vaccine could take place quickly once the vaccine was available. 

At the same time, officials pointed to steps Iran has taken to produce its own vaccine. Iran will not lag behind the world, said Health Minister Seed Namaki, and efforts to develop a domestic vaccine were underway. He claimed that in some cases animal testing had been successful and clinical trials on humans would start soon

In the forthcoming parliamentary runoff elections, the candidates’ campaigns will not be able to include any in-person, live events in nine Iranian provinces, announced Esmail Mousavi, spokesman for the interior ministry’s Elections Headquarters. According to him, election campaigns can only be conducted online and, as much as possible, voting will take place in open spaces.

It has been decided that schools will reopen on September 6, announced Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei. Wherever social distancing is not possible, he said, students will attend school in two groups on alternate days. According to him, in areas in a white state of alert, or where there is a low coronavirus risk, students will attend school in person; in orange, or serious, risk areas, school attendance will be half in-person and half online and in areas in a red, or emergency, state of alert, all classes will be held online.

 

Provinces Round-up

Early after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, the province of Isfahan experienced a very sharp rise in the number of infections and hospitalization and now, after a period of decline, coronavirus is surging again in the province, said Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman. According to her, the rate of infections and hospitalizations in Isfahan has increased by 25 percent in the last six weeks, 16 cities in the province are in a red state of alert and in populous cities like Isfahan the situation is worse.

However, Dr. Tahereh Changiz, president of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, emphasized that the figure of 16 was incorrect, and that  24 cities in the province are in red or orange states of alert — 11 red and 13 orange — and the situation is deteriorating. She reported that currently, aside from the cities of Kashan, Aran and Bidgol, 886 Covid-19 patients have been hospitalized across the province and in the 24 hours prior to midday on August 13, 145 new patients had been hospitalized.

Khuzestan has come out of its first peak of the epidemic, and yet many other provinces have witnessed two peaks, according to Shokrollah Salmanzadeh, president of Abadan University of Medical Sciences, who warned that it is very likely the province would be hit with a second peak after the Muharram ceremonies.

The city of Tehran is in red state of alert and in the 24 hours before August 13, 534 new Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in the nation’s capital, reported Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce. Considering that Tehran had persistently been in a red state of alert, he said, restrictions on government employees and instructions for them to work remotely have been extended until August 21

Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, governor of Tehran province, took similar steps for the entire province, confirming that, considering the fragile situation, all restrictions, including remote work by one-third of government employees, were extended until August 21.

During the holy month of Muharram, mourning processions and the use of drums and cymbals will be prohibited in Tehran. Organizers have been informed of the ban, announced Isa Farhadi, governor of the city of Tehran.

In the 24 hours prior to August 13, four Covid-19 patients died in Hormozgan, bringing the death toll in the province to 618, reported Fatemeh Noroozian, director of public relations at Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. According to her, 282 coronavirus patients were currently hospitalized across the province, and out of those, 61 are in ICU wards and 31 are in critical condition.

According to the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Lari, 15 provinces are in a red state of alert and 11 provinces are in an orange state.

- Red: Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan

- Orange: Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad

In her briefings for August 12 and August 13, Dr. Lari also announced official coronavirus statistics for the last 48 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 5,135

- New hospitalizations: 2,335

- Total cases since the outbreak: 336,324

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,788,027

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 292,058

- New fatalities: 362

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 19,162

 

August 14 and 15:

Twenty-six Iranian provinces remain in a high state of alert, but despite warnings, authorities say a section of the Iranian population still disregards health protocols and refuses to wear masks in public, either because they cannot afford to buy one or because they are not taking the epidemic seriously. According to First Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has decided to fine or punish these people. Offenders will be denied government services and can be suspended from their jobs for up to one year.

Over the last six months, government officials have consistently blamed the Iranian people for the transmission of coronavirus. But now Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, has said that this has been the wrong approach. “The strategic mistake in recent months following the coronavirus outbreak is to [blame] the people as the only factor when this is not true,” he said. “People have no other choice but to worry about their livelihoods, while the haste in reopening businesses can mislead people into thinking that the pandemic has gone dormant.”

During the Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram, which this year starts on August 20, Shias mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam, killed in 680 AD, and hold ceremonies and processions on a large scale.

In a letter to the clergy, preachers and the public, Health Minister Saeed Namaki pointed out that harming others is prohibited in Islam and so asked Muharram mourners to avoid behaving in a way that would give the “enemies” an opportunity to blame them for any surge in coronavirus.

It appeared that an idea of “a mourning chapel in every home” for Muharram was being promoted to prevent crowds and the spread of coronavirus. Mohammad Qomi, the head of the Islamic Development Organization, reported that a system has been designed to register Shia eulogists so that households could request one to preach to them online.

While 26 Iranian provinces continue to battle the second wave of coronavirus and the number of infections and fatalities are rising in some places, President Rouhani claimed that infections are on a downward trend in some provinces. He warned that those who do not observe health protocols during Muharram will be punished, but then objected to criticism that nationwide university entrance exams were going ahead. “How do we walk in the street? How do we go to so many indoor spaces? How do we ride buses and the metro? Now we must say no to entrance exams?” Rouhani said.

Iran’s Educational Testing Organization announced health guidelines for the nationwide university entrance exams, due to start on August 19. The statement explains that the number of days the exams will take place over has been increased from two to four, and the number of organizers has been increased by 50 percent. Participants will find a health kit on their seats containing a mask, a disinfectant pad and health guidelines.

Kianoush Jahanpour, director of the health ministry’s public relations department, announced that it was not important whether a coronavirus vaccine is Russian or Chinese or European. What is important, he pointed out, is whether it has successfully passed all the necessary stages from a scientific perspective and been approved by international authorities. According to Jahanpour, based on the available information, the vaccine recently unveiled by Russia has passed the preliminary clinical trial.

From the week beginning August 17, the drug Remdesivir produced in Iran will be made available to hospitals. For the moment, however, it will not be distributed outside hospitals, reported Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, the head of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration.

 

Provinces Round-up

Tehran remains in a critical situation and Tajrish Martyrs Hospital has run out of beds for Covid-19 patients. According to Dr. Reza Jalili Khoshnood, president of Tajrish Martyrs Hospital in Tehran, there are about 100 Covid-19 patients being treated in the hospital and the wards set aside for coronavirus patients have been filled to capacity. As of August 14, he said, 180 doctors, nurses and other health workers at the hospital had contracted coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus patients in Fars province is rising and currently 956 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized across the province, reported Abdolrasoul Hemmati, vice president of Shiraz University of Medical Sciences. He said 106 of these patients are hospitalized in ICU wards and the total coronavirus official death toll in the province has reached 673.

Currently 489 patients with coronavirus symptoms are hospitalized in Alborz province, of whom 105 are in critical condition, reported Dr. Hasan Karim, president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences. According to him, in the 24 hours before Friday, August 14, 420 patients with coronavirus symptoms attended hospitals in the province and 58 of them were hospitalized. During the same 24 hours, 10 Covid-19 patients died, bringing the official death toll in Alborz to 838.

Every day an average of 100 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized in Mashhad, the capital of Razavi Khorasan province, reported Dr. Hamid Reza Rahimi, an official at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences. He said Mashhad and Razavi Khorasan are still witnessing a crisis and will be in a red state of alert for some time.

The number of coronavirus infections in Hormozgan is declining, but the situation is still fragile, said Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman. In the last, week two more cities in the province were classified as being in a state of red alert. According to Lari, currently five cities in the province are in a red state of alert and the Persian Gulf island of Abu Musa, which used to be the only “green” or safe zone in Iran is now in a “yellow,” or moderate, state of alert.

Claiming that coronavirus has mutated in the province of North Khorasan, Dr. Ahmad Hashemi, president of North Khorasan University of Medical Sciences, said the virus is now 20 times more virulent than it had been before. According to Dr. Hashemi, no ceremony held during Muharram can last longer than two hours and there is a ban on customary mourning processions.

Regardless, Ahmad Elmolhoda, Mashhad’s Friday Imam, declared that all government agencies were ready for Muharram ceremonies and “there is no excuse” to cancel them. He said holding the ceremonies in open spaces has actually more “splendor” than holding them indoors and if anybody refrained from mourning this year giving the excuse that it was too difficult he or she would “fail the test” in the court of faith.

According to the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Lari, currently 15 provinces are in a red state of alert and 11 provinces are in an orange state:

- Red: Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan

- Orange: Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad

In her briefings for August 14 and August 15, Dr. Lari also announced official coronavirus statistics for the last 48 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 4,764

- New hospitalizations: 2,116

- Total cases since the outbreak: 341,070

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,836,252

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 295,630

- New fatalities: 330

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 19,492

 

August 16:

Efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine continue around the world, with experts agreeing that the pandemic cannot be tackled without one. According to Dr. Minoo Moharez, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee, more than 140 countries are currently pursuing a vaccine, and in most cases the animal testing phase had been concluded successfully. A made-in-Iran vaccine has been successfully tested on animals and clinical testing on humanshas begun and will last several months, she said.

However, a vaccine, made in Iran or anywhere else, can be deployed only if one of the three scientific authorities in the world — the World Health Organization, the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency — gives its seal of approval. Moharez said the Russian-manufactured vaccine had not received such approval and, consequently, cannot be used in Iran, a comment that undermined hopes expressed a few days earlier by Iranian officials. 

Dr. Alireza Biglari, president of Iran’s Pasteur Institute, told a press conference: “I am not sure this disease can have a conclusive vaccine because we have seen that some patients have been infected with coronavirus for a second time.” A key factor, he said, is how long immunity from a vaccine could last.

A vaccine would not only save lives, it would also help save the economies of various countries around the world that have been most hard hit by the pandemic and suffer from widespread unemployment as a result. Citing a report by the Iranian parliament’s Research Center, Roozbeh Kardooni, head of the Social Security Research Institute, said that in the last six months, as a best-case scenario, 2.9 million people have lost their jobs in Iran, and in the worst-case scenario, 6.4 million had been made unemployed. According to him, the people who have lost their jobs worked for a fifth of the Iranian businesses that have been battered by the pandemic. He said that a report by the Economic Department of the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare revealed that 4.8 million jobs, 20.3 percent of the total number of jobs in Iran, had been lost due to coronavirus.

 

Hunger Strikes

Seventy-two political prisoners who have been detained for partaking in the November 2019 protests are taking part in a hunger strike over coronavirus fears at the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, according to reports from the Iran Human Rights Monitor (HRM).

The prisoners announced in a letter on August 16 that they started a hunger strike to protest against being denied leaves of absence during the coronavirus pandemic and against poor prison conditions. The strikers refused meals on the same day and pledged to continue their protest until their demands are met.

“We started to strike today to protest against the violations of the political prisoners’ rights and the authorities’ insistence on imprisoning justice-seeking people in these deplorable health conditions and in this remote prison, which lacks the necessary standards for human care,” their letter read. “ None of us are criminals and we have the right to protest. The people who cause inflation and a catastrophic economic situation are the criminals.”

“We demand our rights and the rights of the affected people,” the letter continued. “We demanded our lives and were sentenced to gradual death in this exile where there are no basic facilities for human living.”

 

Mourning Ceremonies

There appear to be no prospects of the virus’ second wave coming to an end in Iran. Given this, plans to go ahead with mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, due to begin on August 20, continue to be controversial. In the latest chapter of the controversy, Ahmad Khatami (no relation to former President Mohammad Khatami), a member of the Assembly of Experts, accused a group of people who had spoken out against the ceremonies taking place during the pandemic of being hostile to Muharram ceremonies in general. While Khatami conceded that some people were not biased and were only opposing the ceremonies because of the pandemic but he did single out some, scolding and belittling them by saying that the“brutish” Reza Shah Pahlavi, the king of Iran from 1925 to 1941, had been more powerful than they were. Nonetheless, he said, his efforts to stop Muharram ceremonies failed. 


Provinces Round-up

According to the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, currently 15 provinces remain in a red state of alert and 11 provinces are in an orange state:

- Red: Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan

- Orange: Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad

According to Dr. Lari, the average worldwide coronavirus death rate is 5.1 percent and on a downward trend but the death rate in Iran is 6.2 percent higher than the global average.

In her briefing for August 16, Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 2,133

- New hospitalizations: 1019

- Total cases since the outbreak: 343,203

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,861,825

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 297,486

- New fatalities: 147

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 19,639

 

August 17:

As Iran continues to plunge into a second wave of coronavirus, President Rouhani has boasted about his government's masterful handling of the crisis. “Undoubtedly, the Islamic Republic of Iran and our nation shone in its comprehensive fight against coronavirus,” he told a meeting with senior officials from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on August 17.

“Despite facing unprecedented and oppressive US sanctions and increasing pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, the government has been able to manage the situation well,” Rouhani said, “and other heads of state and governments have repeatedly expressed surprise about how the government has been able to manage the country under severe sanctions and economic consequences of coronavirus.”

A few days before, on August 12, Health Minister Saeed Namaki had claimed that a number of coronavirus vaccines being developed in Iran had successfully passed initial tests on patients and would soon enter the clinical trial phase. But then, on August 17, there was a conflicting claim, with the head of the epidemiology department at Iran’s Pasteur Institute reporting that vaccines are still in the last phases of animal testing and have yet to reach a phase where human testing could begin. According to Dr. Ehsan Mostafavi, the human testing phrase is split into three parts. It remains unclear where Namaki’s claim about the “clinical trial” of the vaccines came from.

 

A Strong Health System and Pioneering Technology

Rouhani dismissed what he described as foreign media propaganda claims that the second wave of the epidemic had been due to the economy reopening. He ignored the fact that over the last few months, officials from his own health ministry have repeatedly criticized hasty reopening of businesses and public spaces.

Instead, Rouhani and other officials have accused “enemies” of trying to use the pandemic to shut down the country. He thanked the country's National Coronavirus Taskforce, which, he said, had helped see off potentially much bigger problems. 

Since mid-June, government officials have repeatedly denied that Iran is experiencing a second wave, maintaining that in many places, it is still dealing with the aftermath of the first spike in cases and deaths. Rouhani also claimed that many other countries were experiencing second waves. 

Rouhani emphasized that the provision for and strengthening of the country’s healthcare infrastructure was bolstering the country’s fight against coronavirus. ”The doubling of the country's health infrastructure over the last seven years has helped us to allocate 30,000 hospital beds to Covid-19 patients,” Rouhani said, adding,  “we did not face any problem with ICU beds anywhere". Iran’s pioneering telecommunications was also playing a role, he said. 

Rouhani’s claim that the country “did not face any problem with ICU beds” flies in the face of a range of reports over the last six months regarding shortages of ICU beds. In one recent example on August 15, Dr. Alireza Salimi, vice president of Iran’s Medical Council, said that with the increase in the number of coronavirus patients in a critical condition existing ICU beds would not be enough to deal with the situation.

 

School Re-openings

The absence of a Covid-19 vaccine has made the reopening of schools, scheduled for September 5, highly problematic. Under present conditions, said Deputy Education Minister Shapur Mohammad-Zadeh, there are three scenarios for the coming school year:

- In coronavirus-free areas, classes will be held in person;
- In areas in a yellow or orange state of alert, 50 percent of classes will be conducted online and 50 percent will be in person, and the students will be divided in two groups so that members of each group will attend school for three days a week on alternate days, and;
- In areas in a red state of alert, all classes will be held online supported by television and the Education Ministry’s SHAD remote learning system.

From the very first days of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, the emergency system had a detailed plan for handling the situation, claimed Pir Hossein Kolivand, head of Iran’s National Emergency Organization. He reported that since the outbreak of coronavirus, calls for emergency services had increased four times.

According to Kolivand, emergency medical services had not been disrupted by the coronavirus crisis and, after six months of the crisis, he said, his colleagues are still on full alert and all leaves of absence had been canceled. He reported that in the last six months 1,900 emergency personnel have been infected with coronavirus and four of them had died.

The National Library of Iran announced that it would close down from Tuesday, August 18 to comply with health guidelines issued by the National Coronavirus Taskforce and to prevent further spread of coronavirus in Tehran, which remains in a red state of alert. The library said the closure would stay in place until the taskforce announced a change for the better. In the six months since the official confirmation of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, this is at least the third time that the national library has shut its doors to the public.

 

Provinces Round-up

In her daily briefing, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that, as of August 17,15 provinces are still in a red state of alert and 11 provinces are in an orange state.

- Red: Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan

- Orange: Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad

In the same briefing, Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24-hour period:

- New coronavirus cases: 2,247

- New hospitalizations: 1,255

- Total cases since the outbreak: 345,255

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,887,938

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 299,157

- New fatalities: 165

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 19,804

 

August 21 and 22: 

Large groups of Shia devotees have gone out on the streets of Iran to mark annual mourning ceremonies, despite warnings from medical experts and Iran’s coronavirus taskforce that such behavior could lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases. 

The Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram started this year on Thursday, August 20. The month is one of Shia Muslims’ holiest times, when people mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam, who died in 680 AD. Each year, the mourning is marked by huge ceremonies and processions. Thousands of people usually gather along the streets to watch the procession of men rhythmically beating their chests or using bundles of chains to beat their backs to the beat of massive drums amplified by speakers. Along with the crowds, drums and street processions were banned this year.

But, since Thursday, August 20, despite clear advice and mandatory guidelines issued by the National Coronavirus Taskforce, mourning processions and ceremonies have been held in mosques and on streets across the country.

According to Radio Farda, some Iranian ultra-religious mourning groups and clerics, many of them with considerable political influence, had criticized health authorities for imposing measures that were "too strict" and which they said would interfere with the appropriate observance of the holy anniversary. Some of those objecting against the measures had pledged to ignore them.

Saeed Haddadian, a notorious religious eulogist, said in July that it was necessary for the ceremonies to go ahead with as much splendor as possible, even if that led to the deaths of people. "There are people who are willing to sacrifice their lives for these ceremonies," he said, declaring that he would set his mourning procession in motion in the streets of the capital "under any circumstances.”

Although some photographs have shown people observing health protocols during ceremonies, there are many more photographs and videos online that indicate that social distancing was not practiced, spurred on by the religious leaders who had spoken out against official health guidelines.

One Shia tradition during Muharram is the distribution of food to the needy, which is usually done by setting up stands and stations so that people can have access to what is on offer. This year, however, Ahmad Joneidi, the head of the health ministry’s Center for Workplace Safety, reminded people that setting up such stations is banned. “The Supreme Leader has advised that if the offering can be done in another form then it should be,” he said. “But if it cannot be done in another way, people can cook the food and distribute it to people in their homes under the supervision of health professionals instead of in gatherings. These gatherings increase the chances of coronavirus infection.”

 

August 22: Doctors' Day and an Appeal for "Traditional Medicine"

Unlike Iran’s first coronavirus wave, the wave that started in June had more fatalities among the 30 to 40-year-old age group, according to President Rouhani. He told the National Coronavirus Taskforce on August 22  that the second wave had affected up to 20 of 31 Iranian provinces. Nevertheless. Rouhani added that “a passionate observance of Muharram mourning ceremonies is a test for all of us” and if, after the ceremonies, no new peak in the pandemic appeared, “everybody will be proud.”

Prior to this, Rouhani had asked his minister of communication to increase the bandwidth of the internet so that mourning ceremonies could be broadcast live on the web.

In Iran, August 22 is National Doctors’ Day, which honors Ibn Sina, or Avicenna as he is known in the West, the great 10th-century Iranian physician, astronomer and philosopher. Iranians marked the occasion online by posting photographs of some of the Muharram religious ceremonies where people disregarded health guidelines, many of them accompanied with the caption: “We shall defeat the health workers this Muharram!” Expectations are that, with packed Muharram mourning ceremonies continuing throughout the month, the number of coronavirus fatalities will once again shoot up.

On the morning of August 22, news outlets also reported that two traditional medicine experts had written to religious authorities. The letter emphasized that one of the important causes of coronavirus fatalities in Iran had been the failure to use the “capabilities of traditional medicine.” They wrote that “if, in addition to widespread promotion of wearing masks and social distancing, we had promoted simple preventive measures such as taking garlic, honey, black cumin and ginger and gargling with saltwater, many of our colleagues and fellow Iranians would still be among us.”

 

Iran’s Exports Fall 39 Percent Due to Pandemic

Iran’s non-oil exports have shrunk by approximately 39 percent compared with the previous year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, an Iranian export analyst has revealed. 

Mohammad Lahouti, the head of Iran’s Export Confederation, said the government had expected about $41 billion of non-oil exports for the current Iranian calendar year starting on March 20, but that so far the figures for the first five months of the current calendar year indicate a decline in exports by at least 39 percent.

 

Fears in Popular Holiday Destinations

While 26 of 31 Iranian provinces are on high alert, officials of other provinces, including Kermanshah and Khuzestan, continue to issue daily warnings to their people that if they fail to follow health protocols, coronavirus cases could rise and the province might return to a red, or emergency, state of alert.

In the run-up to Muharram religious holidays between August 26 and August 29, there were concerns that provinces that are normally vacation destinations during this period might experience a resurgence in cases. Officials from these provinces have urged people to forgo traveling there if possible. The northern province of Gilan, which was an epicenter of the pandemic at the beginning of the outbreak, is one of them. Noting that people from Gilan who live in other provinces tend to travel to their birthplace during holidays, Dr. Arsalan Zare, governor of Gilan, asked these people to postpone their visits because of the epidemic.

 

Exams Take Place Despite Fears 

After much debate and political upheaval, the nationwide university entrance exams were held between August 19 and August 22 after repeated postponements. Fearful that the exams could accelerate the spread of coronavirus, many prospective participants had repeatedly gone on social media to ask for them to be postponed until the situation improved. In the end, they were ignored, as were medical officials who had supported their requests. 

The nationwide exams cover five categories: natural sciences, social sciences, technology and mathematics, arts and foreign languages. According to official figures, 1,247,449 students had registered for the exams but 145,784 of them failed to show up. Many people stated that they had not participated in the exams because they were afraid of contracting coronavirus.

In her daily briefing on August 22, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that 15 provinces remain in a red, or emergency state of alert, and 11 provinces remain in an orange, or serious state of alert:

- Red: Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan

- Orange: Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad

In her briefings on August 21 and August 22, Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 48 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 4,234

- New hospitalizations: 1,778

- Total cases since the outbreak: 356,792

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,011,310

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 307,702

- New fatalities: 238

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 20,502

 

August 23:

As the religious holidays of Muharram get underway and Iranians prepare to travel to visit family, officials in several provinces have expressed fears that the number of Covid-19 cases could rise. 

The Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram started this year on Thursday, August 20. The month is one of Shia Muslims’ holiest times, when people mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam, who died in 680 AD. As well as holding large processions,  travel is popular during this time of year. The period between August 26 and August 29 is of particular concern, as several days into the month is traditionally a time when Iranians travel to visit family, or spend a few days in some of the country’s most popular vacation spots.  

The northern province of Mazandaran is one of these vacation destinations. On August 22, Mehdi Saadati, chairman of the parliamentary caucus of representatives from Mazandaran, demanded the closure of the border between Tehran and Mazandaran before these holidays start. He repeated his demand on August 23. “Ignoring the current situation and allowing people of the capital to freely travel to Mazandaran during the weekend will spread infections of this deadly virus among the people,” he said. 

Saadati pointed out that, according to the National Coronavirus Taskforce, more than 90 percent of Mazandaran is in a red, or emergency, state of alert.

But Ali Asghar Mounesan, the Minister of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism, took a different view. Contrary to the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s appeal to people to avoid traveling during the holidays, Mounesan claimed that “traveling has the least effect on the spread of coronavirus.”

In a letter to President Rouhani, Mounesan wrote that the pandemic had cost the tourism industry over 12 trillion tomans, close to US$3 billion, and warned of “a great wave of unemployment” in the coming six months. “Under these conditions people who have invested their whole capital to build facilities for tourists have no hope that they will have any income or they can pay back their debts.”

Despite Mounesan’s insistence that traveling posed no danger, long before his statements, on June 27, health minister Saeed Namaki had said: “Unfortunately, there were travels and the travelers carried this virus bomb…I can never forget the heavy sadness in my heart and the hearts of my colleagues when we learned that a 10-year-old child traveled with his parents to Qeshm Island and was buried in Bandar Abbas instead of returning to the bosom of his parents.”

 

“The Young Spread the Virus”

In a news conference on August 23, Deputy Health Minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei reported that some hospitals lost up to 50 percent of their revenue during the pandemic. “On average, the health ministry spends around 2.5 million tomans [$600] on each coronavirus patient in common wards, but an extra 4.5 million tomans [$1,080] must be spent if they are treated in ICU wards,” he said. “According to the law, five to 10 percent of these costs must be paid by the people.”

Before the start of the Iranian new calendar year on March 20, said Jan-Babaei, “the rate of infections among the young people was much lower, but since June and July approximately 10 to 20 percent of hospitalized Covid-19 patients are young and around 20 years old. They are the links in the chain of coronavirus transmission.”

A senior Tehran police official has complained that the police are not getting enough support when it comes to rounding up obvious drug addicts from the streets of Tehran. “Gathering up drug addicts is not the job of the police, but the police do it. But rehabilitation centers refuse to admit them because of coronavirus,” Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi, commander of Tehran province’s police, said. “Before the epidemic, when the drug addicts were picked up they were screened [for illnesses]. It would not be very difficult to establish a new protocol to test them for coronavirus.”

According to official figures, there are between 10,000 and 15,000 open drug users across the capital, sparking worries that Covid-19 will spread further among them and by them.

According to Dr. Alireza Zali, the director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, Iran, Russia and the US have the highest level of infections among health workers. Exhaustion, he said, was a contributing factor. “Field studies in the three universities of medical sciences in Tehran show that 23 percent of nurses and support workers have not used protective gear adequately despite the fact that they have been available at treatment centers,” he said. “Among doctors, this number is between 12 to 18 percent. Wearing coveralls in the warm air of hospitals with their inadequate ventilation is difficult.”

Earlier, on August 5, Alireza Salimi, vice president of Iran’s Medical Council, had reported that approximately 6,000 health workers and medical staff in Tehran had been infected with coronavirus and more than 150 of them had lost their lives in the line of duty.

In a teleconference between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and government ministers, health minister Saeed Namaki made an astonishing, unverifiable claim: “During the coronavirus pandemic, no patient has been kept out of the hospitals.”

In her daily briefing for August 23, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that currently 15 provinces are still in a red state of alert and 11 provinces are in an orange state.

- Red: Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan

- Orange: Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad

Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 2,113

- New hospitalizations: 882

- Total cases since the outbreak: 358,905

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,036,711

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 358,905

- New fatalities: 141

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 20,643

 

August 24: 

 

Muharram mourning ceremonies and processions continue to go ahead across Iran, many of them defying health guidelines issued by the National Coronavirus Taskforce. And yet the office of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei announced the cancelation of this year’s scheduled events at Imam Khomeini Hussainiya, a congregational hall for Shia religious ceremonies. The Supreme Leader was due to be present at the event. 

“Be advised,” said the statement, “that this year, in accordance with health guidelines and criteria announced by the National Coronavirus Task, the mourning ceremonies at Imam Khomeini Hussainiya will not be open to the public." All mourning ceremonies in the presence of the Islamic Revolution’s Supreme Leader will be broadcast on national TV, it said. 

The most prominent in-person Muharram ceremony in Iran might have been canceled, but the measures put in place in that situation were not applied elsewhere. Some officials continued to glorify other ceremonies, while paying lip service to heath protocols. “This year’s mourning ceremonies by our wise people who observe social distancing and health protocols are an example and a model for the whole world,” announced General Hossein Ashtari, commander of the national police.

On Sunday, August 23, Ali Asghar Mounesan, Minister of Tourism, had objected to the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s appeal to people to avoid traveling during the upcoming religious holidays and had said that “traveling has the least effect on spreading coronavirus.” However, on August 24, he denied that he had issued this criticism.

“Coronavirus dealt a hard blow to tourism in the world and this blow fell on tourism in Iran as well,” Mounesan told a radio program. “Of course, in July we did get the permission of the National Coronavirus Taskforce and we resumed all [tourist activities]. Fortunately, domestic tourism had such a high potential that it rebounded quickly but, unfortunately, with the surge in the epidemic, restrictions, especially on traveling, were imposed. Now tourism is not in such good shape.”

 

Economy has Been “Managed Well"

In a video conference with Ayatollah Khamenei, President Rouhani downplayed the impact of the pandemic on the Iranian economy. "While the economy of many major countries in the world shrank by 20 percent, the Iranian economy was damaged by only three percent in the face of the problems caused by coronavirus outbreak, which is a sign of the government's ability to withstand this problem and manage it,” he told the Supreme Leader.

"The fall in oil prices, and especially the unprecedented and oppressive US sanctions, also created problems for the people,” Rouhani said. “But in the face of these problems … using the experience of successfully dealing with these two shocks, the government was also able to manage the country well in dealing with problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Rouhani.

Khuzestan province has been in a critical situation in recent months, but on August 24, Gholamreza Shariati, governor of the province, reported that more people were being released from hospitals than being admitted. “Currently between 180 to 190 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized in Khuzestan, whereas we had more than 1,000 prior to this,” he said.

In recent years, September has been a busy month for parents of young children, who have been generally enthusiastic about enrolling them in pre-school. But this year, there has been a noticeable decline in registration at preschools. For instance, Nahid Fazeli, deputy head of Kermanshah’s Education Bureau, announced that the parents of just 10 percent of preschoolers have registered their children.

It is not yet clear whether, starting in September, schools will be held online or if students will be required to attend in person. What is clear is that not all students have the means to participate in online classes.

The Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce has opposed the reopening of schools in the capital. Rezvan Hakimzadeh, the deputy education minister for primary schools, said “our primary concern is the safety of the students. Naturally, in a situation where the health of the students is threatened, we will use the internet and other tools to teach them. There can be no doubt that in-person teaching is more effective, but we cannot choose the situation we are in. Instead, it is forced upon us.”

But it is not only students attending schools that might spread coronavirus, warned Hossein Farshidi, the president of Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. “Our worry in reopening schools is the danger of students becoming infected when they are commuting to and from school.”

In her daily briefing for August 24, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said, as in the last several days, 15 provinces are still in a red state of alert and 11 provinces continue to be in an orange state:

- Red: Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardebil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan

- Orange: Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad

 

Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 2,245

- New hospitalizations: 1,132

- Total cases since the outbreak: 361,150

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,062,422

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 311,365

- New fatalities: 133

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 20,776

Dr. Lari also reported that 3,848 hospitalized Covid-19 patients are in a critical condition.

 

August 29:

 

Every year, during the Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram – one of Shia Islam’s holiest periods, when people mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam, who died in 680 AD – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presides over a series of high-profile mourning ceremonies at Imam Khomeini Hussainiya, a congregational hall for religious gatherings. But on August 24, Khamenei’s office announced that “this year, in accordance with health guidelines and criteria announced by the National Coronavirus Taskforce, the mourning ceremonies at Imam Khomeini Hussainiya will not be open to the public.”

Some ceremonies have taken place over the past several evenings, but privately and with only Khamenei, one Shia eulogist, one preacher and a camera crew. Iran’s domestic media has widely circulated photographs of Khomeini at the events in the large but mostly empty hall.

Closing the hall to the public was meant to encourage people to comply with distancing and other health guidelines during Muharram, when Shias traditionally hold crowded mourning ceremonies and processions. In a letter to Khamenei, Dr. Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi, president of Iran’s Medical Council, thanked him for setting an example for all mourners in Iran.

But the reality on the ground over the past few days has not completely matched Khamenei’s example and the expectations of Zafarghandi. Despite a ban on processions by the National Coronavirus Taskforce, many pictures of such processions from different cities of Iran have been posted on social media, even though in some specific cases the ban was observed, in cities such as Qom and Qazvin.

This year’s Muharram religious holidays also coincided with summer, when many residents of central Iranian provinces tend to travel to the picturesque northern provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran and the coast of the Caspian Sea. Health officials have been warning against such travels during the pandemic for weeks and today, not for the first time, Health Minister Saeed Namaki literally begged people to take pity on themselves and on health workers and to avoid traveling for pleasure.

 

Holidays and hospitalizations

In one of these provinces, Gilan, the number of new hospitalizations has increased by 15 compared to the days before the holidays. Dr. Abtin Heydarzadeh, vice president of the Gilan University of Medical Sciences, reported that the number of hospitalizations in the province had passed 370 and “unfortunately the daily number of patients who are released from hospitals has declined. A number of travelers who had visited emergency centers are now hospitalized as well.”

According to Dr. Heydarzadeh, 40 percent of new hospitalizations are due to holiday travels. “It is really immoral to come to Gilan from other provinces and to infect your friends and relatives and even cause their deaths,” he said. “I ask tourists to remain in one place, not to move around the province, and to cut short their vacations.”

In the city of Babol, in Mazandaran province, the number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients has declined by 50 percent but, according to Dr. Farzad Jalali, president of Babol University of Medical Sciences, the consequences of the arrival of tourists will become apparent within the next two weeks. He claimed that the second wave of coronavirus in Gilan, an early epicenter of the pandemic in Iran, was ending when tourists started to arrive, and he asked people to follow health guidelines meticulously to prevent a third wave from breaking out.

In late June the number of hospitalizations in Babol and its surrounding areas had reached 360; today it has fallen to 179. In the hospitals run by the Babol and Mazandaran medical universities a total of 877 coronavirus patients are hospitalized at the present time.

“Mazandaran is in a state of red alert and I advise people not to travel to Mazandaran,” said Colonel Mohammad Sadegh, the commander of police in the provincial city of Savadkuh. “According to national statistics, every individual trip increases the chances of coronavirus infection by 1.9 percent and I really beg people to avoid traveling.”

The number of Covid-19 patients in the province of Hormozgan has declined but in the two areas of Jask and Sirik it is rising. “With yesterday’s deaths [on August 28], the number of fatalities reached a total of 698 in Hormozgan,” said Dr. Hossein Farshidi, president of Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. “In this week the number of fatalities in Hormozgan declined but nine percent more coronavirus patients were admitted to the hospitals.”

 

Provinces round-up

In her daily briefing for August 29, Health Ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that currently 13 provinces are in a red state of alert and 15 provinces are in an orange state:

- Red: Tehran, Mazandaran, Gilan, Qom, Isfahan, Razavi Khorasan, East Azerbaijan, Kerman, North Khorasan, Semnan, Yazd, Zanjan and Qazvin

- Orange: West Azerbaijan, Alborz, Fars, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Ardebil, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, South Khorasan, Markazi, Ilam, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Golestan and Khuzestan

Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,905

- New hospitalizations: 857

- Total cases since the outbreak: 371,816

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,184,857

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 319,847

- New fatalities: 110

 

August 30:

The coronavirus news on August 30 started with Deputy Health Minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei complaining of holiday travels to the northern province of Mazandaran. “Health workers are doing everything in their power to serve the people but they are exhausted because some disregard the [coronavirus] guidelines,” he said. “More serious action must be taken against those who travel regardless of the guidance. But this is not the Health Ministry’s job and authorities in other areas must enforce the restrictions.”

Jan-Babaei can complain that many travelers have been rushing to tourist locations in the picturesque provinces of northern Iran and the shores of the Caspian Sea: in Mazandaran alone the number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients has climbed to 800.

In the 24 hours before August 30, in the neighboring province of Gilan, 75 new coronavirus patients including 15 out-of-province holiday travelers were hospitalized. Dr. Arsalan Salari, president of the Gilan University of Medical Sciences, said that the high number of travelers to the province was alarming and that “unfortunately, in some of the parks in various areas of the province, tourists have set up tents without observing health guidelines.”

After Qom, Gilan was the second Iranian province to become an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Iran. A number of doctors and other health workers have lost their lives there to Covid-19 since March. The second peak of the epidemic started some time ago in Gilan and the province is now in a red state of alert.

Some other provinces also report that the number of coronavirus cases are rising. On Saturday, August 29, Farhad Abolnejadian, president of Ahvaz Jondishapur University of Medical Sciences, reported that after a few weeks of decline, the number of infections is rising once again. “Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, we have witnessed an alarming increase in the number of hospitalizations that show people have been behaving differently, including a decline in wearing masks and an increase in traveling to areas in a red state of alert,” he said.

In Hormozgan province the total death toll has reached 691. As of today, 246 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized across the province. Fifty-five of these patients are in ICU wards and 22 of them are in critical condition.

In Kerman province, the coronavirus total death toll exceeded 700 and the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations now stands at 232. And a six-day-old baby girl reportedly lost her life to coronavirus in the province of Bushehr.

According to Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, even though Tehran province is still is in a red state of alert, holiday travels have not yet made much difference to the number of patients. But the holiday period is not yet over and it is unclear if the cases may still rise when travelers return home to Tehran.

 

Holy days, vaccines and expecting mothers

Besides the holiday travels, Muharram ceremonies to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein are also still a cause for concern. The National Coronavirus Taskforce had issued strict guidelines to ban mourning processions in the streets and other public places. But in a number of provinces not only were mourning ceremonies held but distancing and other health protocols were mostly ignored. In some provinces, officials intervened to stop some of the more dangerously crowded traditional ceremonies.

In a conversation with Health Minister Saeed Namaki, President Hassan Rouhani referred to news that progress toward a coronavirus vaccine had advanced in some countries, and ordered that necessary measures be taken to purchase the vaccine as soon as possible and to carry out the necessary trials.

"Those who have traveled during the recent holidays should not allow their non-compliance with [health] protocols to cause a new escalation of the Covid-19 outbreak and negatively affect the hard work of medical workers,” said Rouhani. "Those who have traveled should strictly follow the health instructions and physical distancing and avoid being in crowded places to prevent damage to the success that has been achieved in controlling the second wave of coronavirus".

Expecting mothers, meanwhile, need not worry about coronavirus when giving birth in maternity wards because they would be put in a single-bed LDR (labor, delivery, and recovery) room, said Deputy Health Minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei.

“The maternity wards are not contaminated with coronavirus because all health workers in these wards wear protective gear and are regularly tested for coronavirus. So I must say that pregnant women will not get infected in maternity wards,” Jan-Babaei said. “But there are some mothers who are already infected when they enter the hospital … We were able to treat many of them and they were able to give birth.”

“When a pregnant woman is infected with coronavirus, the first priority is to treat her for coronavirus so that she can give birth in a better condition,” he added.

In a tweet, Kianoush Jahanpour, director of the Health Ministry’s public relations office, criticized the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) for disseminating “superstitious” treatments for Covid-19. “People turn to Channel 3 that says Imam Kazem’s remedy is good for coronavirus. Channel 5 says only salt would work and when they return to Channel 3 it says a honey bee sting does wonders,” he wrote.

Jahanpour used the hashtag “violet” at the bottom of his tweet, a reference to Abbas Tabrizian, a quack doctor who rejects modern medicine and believes in what he calls “Islamic medicine.” In the early weeks after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, he and his followers promoted violet oil as a cure for the virus. In April, a promoter of this remedy by the name of Morteza Kohan-Sal was arrested in a hospital in Gilan because he had gone among coronavirus patients without wearing protective gear.

Likewise, on August 22, news outlets reported that two traditional medicine experts had written to religious authorities. The letter emphasized that one of the important causes of coronavirus fatalities in Iran had been the failure to use the “capabilities of traditional medicine.” They wrote that “if, in addition to widespread promotion of wearing masks and social distancing, we had promoted simple preventive measures such as taking garlic, honey, black cumin and ginger and gargling with saltwater, many of our colleagues and fellow Iranians would still be among us.”

 

Provinces round-up

In her daily briefing for August 30, Health Ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that currently 14 provinces are in a red state of alert and 15 provinces are in an orange state:

- Red: Tehran, Mazandaran, Gilan, Qom, Isfahan, Razavi Khorasan, East Azerbaijan, Kerman, North Khorasan, Semnan, Yazd, Zanjan and Qazvin

- Orange: West Azerbaijan, Alborz, Fars, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Ardebil, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, South Khorasan, Markazi, Ilam, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Golestan and Khuzestan

Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,754

- New hospitalizations: 718

- Total cases since the outbreak: 373,570

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,207,269

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 321,421

- New fatalities: 103

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 21,462

 

August 31: 

The first 10 days of Muharram are over. The holy month, the time when Shias mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein in 680, is traditionally marked by public ceremonies and processions. The summer holidays have also come to a close and the school year is about to get underway. Both events have been the source of intense worry among both large parts of the public and many officials, and there is widespread expectation that there will be a jump in the number of coronavirus cases across the Islamic Republic. 

During Muharram, despite repeated warnings by health officials, many Iranian cities witnessed packed mourning ceremonies and tourists, with some particularly popular holiday destinations hosting large numbers of visitors.  

On August 30, numerous videos of these packed religious gatherings, breeding grounds for coronavirus, were posted on social media. In the holy city of Qom, despite a ban by Qom’s Islamic Development Organization on large procession on Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram and the day when Imam Hossein was martyred, a number of processions rushed toward the Shrine of Masoumeh, the daughter of the 7th Shia Imam. Videos and photographs posted online show some people taking part in the procession breaking barriers to enter the courtyard of the shrine to mourn.

Nevertheless, domestic news agencies pretended that such events did not happen and everything went according to plan. For example, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that worshippers, following health guidelines and without processions, gathered in the courtyard of Masoumeh Shrine to mourn.

Commenting on the consequences of holding these ceremonies and people’s holiday travels, First Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said: “Unfortunately, in the coming week we shall witness an increase in the number of outpatients. After two or three weeks the number of hospitalizations will rise and after four to six weeks we shall see an increase in the number of coronavirus fatalities.”

He reported that the most popular travel destinations during the holidays were the provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Isfahan and East Azerbaijan, despite the fact that these provinces are all in a red, or emergency, state of alert. According to Harirchi, on Thursday, August 27, there were 2,566,000 inter-province travels, an increase of nine percent compared to the same day last year, long before the outbreak of coronavirus.

 

Schools Due to Re-open

Now that the Muharram holidays and the most important mourning days are over, Iranian officials and people face a new serious challenge: the reopening of schools and universities, scheduled for September 5.

Education minister Mohsen Haji-Mirzaei reiterated that reopenings will take place on schedule and, except in areas in a red state of alert, students will attend school. “In places where there is no access to the internet, television can provide students with necessary educational programs,” he said.

“In 35 percent of schools where the number of students is below 50 and where social distancing is possible, classes will be held as usual but even in other schools in-person classes are not out of the question and they remain the default,” said Haji-Mirzaei. “But, in the remaining 65 percent of schools, if social distancing is not possible, we will still hold classes in person but we will divide the students into two groups. One group will attend classes on odd days and the other on even days.”

He emphasized the importance of in-person classes, but conceded that in some cases compliance with health protocols would not be possible. Therefore, he said, schools will not reopen in areas in a red state of alert. In areas in a yellow state of alert, schools will reopen, albeit with a limited number of students. Students, he said, will be notified by their schools of the exact arrangement.

Many parents, however, expressed worry that their children would be infected with coronavirus if they attended school. This came amid reports from Kerman that 245 young people in the six to 18-year-old age group had been infected.

“Until early June there were very few hospitalizations of patients under 15 years of age in the hospitals run by Kerman University of of Medical Sciences but then the second peak of the epidemic started and reached its zenith in July,” said Mehdi Shafiei, the universities spokesman. “We had 245 inpatients in the school-age group [six to 18] and, unfortunately, some died. And this happened when people did not have much personal contact with one another.”

Shafiei warned that as schools reopened, students’ behavior could not be controlled. He said that the commute to school, parents gathering near the school and other social situations could create chains of transmission among students. This would be dangerous both to them and to older people, he said, especially if the risk of influenza is taken into account. He emphasized that the risk of influenza cases as fall approached could not be predicted. 

Masoud Saghafi, spokesman for the Tehran Education Bureau, said that classes will be held remotely in the city when schools reopen on September 5 because Tehran is in a red state of alert.

 

Provinces Round-up and Daily Briefing

The total Covid-19 death toll in Alborz province has reached 942, according to Mohammad Fathi, the president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences. He said that since the outbreak of the epidemic, 15,311 people have been hospitalized in the province with coronavirus symptoms, of whom 14,762 tested positive for the virus. According to him, of the current 415 patients currently hospitalized in Alborz with coronavirus symptoms, 125 are confirmed Covid-19 patients.

In her daily briefing for August 31, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari reported that as of August 31, 13 provinces were in a red state of alert and 15 provinces were in an orange, or serious state of alert.

- Red: Tehran, Mazandaran, Gilan, Qom, Isfahan, Razavi Khorasan, East Azerbaijan, Kerman, North Khorasan, Semnan, Yazd, Zanjan and Qazvin

- Orange: West Azerbaijan, Alborz, Fars, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Ardabil, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, South Khorasan, Markazi, Ilam, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Golestan and Khuzestan

Dr. Lari also announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,624

- New hospitalizations: 573

- Total cases since the outbreak: 375,212

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,231,110

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 323,233

- New fatalities: 109

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 21,571

 

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

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