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

 

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

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