September 3: 

Refugees entering Iran illegally may be at risk of contracting coronavirus in camps where they are being held, Persian media based outside Iran has revealed.  

Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaghari said that an average of 672,000 illegal foreign nationals in Iran are "deported every year," and, due to the coronavirus pandemic, those who enter the country are currently being kept in camps for a more extended period than usual, according to a Radio Farda report. 

However, Zolfaghari was not explicit about whether social distancing and other measures to contain the deadly virus were being implemented in Iran's refugee camps. Earlier, on August 23, Zolfaghari had claimed that all foreign nationals infected with coronavirus would receive medical treatment free of charge in Iran. But these camps may be failing to implement social distancing and meet the necessary hygiene standards.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Iran, 2,852 foreign nationals have contracted coronavirus and 294 of them have died.

 

Schools to Open in Three Days

Officials continued saying what has become a haunting refrain: Schools will reopen on September 5. The regularity with which they say it indicates the government is willing to put children back in the classroom at any price. Where it has been proven to be impossible — in areas of the country that remain on an emergency or “red” state of a alert and where public health is clearly at risk — ministers have said that the state broadcaster will offer educational programs on television and that apps will be made available for remote learning.

President Rouhani instructed the head of the Plan and Budget Organization and the ministers for education and communications and information technology to ensure that public schools and students are able to use the education ministry’s SHAD remote learning network free of charge. “Families previously had to pay for the internet to use this network but today I ordered that use of the SHAD network must be free to families and students,” he announced on September 2.

A few hours later, communications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi reiterated that the SHAD network would be free. However, he added that remote learning would not stop there: students would have access to SHAD but also what he described as “designed packages” that offer even more for students needing to learn outside the classroom. As of September 2, Jahromi said, 86,000 schools across the country had been connected to the internet and the ministry was working to connect 1,000 universities as well.

While education minister Mohsen Haji-Mirzaei insisted that students must go to school starting on September 5, Ali Bagherzadeh, the head of the Coordination Center at the ministry announced that in-person attendance at schools would not be mandatory. “The family can choose to send the student to school or use other services such as educational programs on TV or the SHAD remote learning network,” he said.

The reopening of schools will mean more use of public transportation, warned Dr. Alireza Zali, the director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce. “What makes the reopening of schools twice as worrisome is the increase in the use of public transportation.” As of September 2, while educational institutes were still inactive,” he said, “850,000 people use the metro and 800,000 ride buses every day and there are around 75,000 cabs in service.”

 

Provinces Round-up

Since the outbreak of coronavirus, in the city of Tehran alone 10,684 have died of Covid-19. Many of the bodies have been taken to Behesht Zahra Cemetery, according to Nahid Khoda-Karami, a member of Tehran City Council. According to the death certificates provided to Behesht Zahra Cemetery, she wrote, the number of coronavirus fatalities in Tehran has declined. “Of course, this does not mean that all of 10,684 bodies were buried at Behesht Zahra, because many families want to take their loved ones to their birthplace,” she added.

According to her, currently an average of 45 Covid-19 patients die in Tehran every day.

“Coronavirus infections in Qom are increasing at an alarming rate,” said Dr. Mohammad Reza Ghadir, president of Qom University of Medical Sciences. “This increase is happening while the rate of infections in other provinces is falling.

“Tehran was supposed to send 400,000 masks to Qom but, as of now, we have not received a single one,” said Dr. Ghadir.

In Qazvin province, since the coronavirus outbreak 8,683 Covid-19 patients have been hospitalized, 7,328 of whom have recovered, reported Manouchehr Habibi, deputy provincial governor for political, security and social affairs. As of September 2, 289 coronavirus patients were hospitalized across the province, an increase of 45 in just one day. “At the moment, 578 workers and employees of the provincial government have been infected with coronavirus,” he said.

In the 24 hours leading up to September 2, the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients in critical condition reached 102, reported Dr. Mohammad Fathi, president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences. The total number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in Alborz province now stands at 412 of whom 59 were hospitalized on September 1, he said. In the past 24 hours, he reported, six Covid-19 patients have died.

Every day an average of 80 outpatients with coronavirus symptoms attend medical facilities in Gilan and the total number of hospitalizations in the province has reached 370, reported Abtin Heydarzadeh, vice president of Gilan University of Medical Sciences. He asked residents of Gilan who had been in contact with out-of-province travelers during recent religious holidays to quarantine themselves and seek medical attention if they detect any Covid-19 symptoms.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, 40 percent of workers in the province of Fars have lost their jobs, reported Nasser Mousavi, president of the Council of Fars Labor Representatives, who added that between 20 to 30 percent of workers in the province were experiencing bad financial problems and were having difficulty making ends meet. “Unfortunately,” he said, “rising prices after the coronavirus outbreak have put the workers under enormous pressure and, besides the difficulty in acquiring items for hygiene, they also have to deal with commuting problems. Unfortunately this year’s wages, as set by the government, cannot cope with living expenses.”

In her daily briefing for September 2, the 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 last 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,858

- New hospitalizations: 1,136

- Total cases since the outbreak: 378,858

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,281,961

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 326,801

- New fatalities: 125

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 21,797

 

September 5: 

Throughout August, statements from various Iranian officials about the reopening of schools contradicted one another, sparking fear and confusion for students and their families across the country. The government eventually decided that schools would reopen on September 5, with President Rouhani appearing in an address online ringing a bell to usher in the new school year, and announcing the event in grand terms: “We will prove that the dichotomy between education and health is a false one.”

This statement from Rouhani invited a range of negative responses, especially on social media. Many parents who had announced that they were not going to send their children back to school even if it was mandatory objected to the comments.

Esmail Azarinejad, a clergyman who reads stories to children in the villages of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad province, was one of them. “I took my eight-year-old daughter Arghavan for a coronavirus test, not that she had any symptoms but just to make sure,” he tweeted. “The test was positive. How many could have been infected with coronavirus if she had gone to school today?”

Elmira Sharifi, a TV newsreader, responded with sarcasm. “Health vs. education is a false dichotomy?” she tweeted. “Mr. President, I wish, like every year, you had personally gone to a school to ring the bell to start the new year.”

But not all schools re-opened. “Before sending their children to school parents should call the school on Saturday morning to see if it is open,” announced Ali Bagherzadeh, head of the education ministry’s Coordination Center, on television on Thursday, September 3. But many parents who did call schools on the morning of September 5 were met with busy signals. In addition, according to reports posted on social media, the website designed to inform students and families about the reopening of schools and their schedules was not working properly either.

On Friday, September 4, a day after Bagherzadeh told parents to call schools, education minister Mohsen Haji-Mirzaei announced: “there is no need to call schools; on Saturday all students must go to school in person. The statement [by Bagherzadeh] gave the wrong impression that parents must call schools to see whether they are in-person or not. But all classes will be in-person and all students must attend their classes.”

 

Criticism from Experts, Parents and Provincial Officials

One person criticized the decision to reopen schools and make students attend classes in person was Dr. Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi, president of the Iranian Medical Council. “With the critical situation of the coronavirus contagion, whatever the reason behind this unexpected decision, it is not appropriate for the health of the students and their families, and there can be no doubt that it would impose more patients on the medical community, nurses and health workers,” he wrote in an open letter to the education minister.

“The circular sent by your deputy includes many contradictory and unscientific points,” wrote Dr. Zafarghandi. “Most transmissions take place when there are no symptoms. As a result, the absence of the students when they do have symptoms does not solve the problem of transmission. Add to this the unpreparedness of families and schools to implement guidelines to have in-person classes, students’ commute, and so on.”

He added that he was asking for a serious revision of the decision and for education officials to make greater efforts to deliver remote learning.

Similarly, Mohammad Ali Mohseni Bandpey, a member of the parliament’s Health Committee, criticized the education ministry for its decision to reopen schools. “We were not expecting the education ministry to announce that schools must reopen just as the number of coronavirus cases was falling and despite the fact that we lack the necessary infrastructure,” he said. “We reached from 239 fatalities per day to 118, but the number of cases per day is still around 2,000. This shows we are still in a red state of alert. This continuous relaxing and tightening of the rules and ignoring the guidelines set by the National Coronavirus Taskforce results in contradictions among officials in terms of how they behave. It is the people who suffer from it.”

Although the education minister insisted that students must attend classes in person, not only did many parents refuse to send their children to schools, but some provincial officials have come out against it.

Mohammad Javad Fadaei, governor of Kerman province, emphasized that attending classes in person was not mandatory and it would be the parents who would make the final decision. “In the last few days decisions have been made that are at variance with previous decisions,” he said. “Students must be able to study online or offline.”

 

Provinces Round-up

In the last 24 hours covering September 4 and September 5, two more people died from Covid-19 in the province of Zanjan, bringing the official total coronavirus death toll in the province to 443. Zanjan is in a red state of alert and currently 294 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized across the province. Since the outbreak of coronavirus, 10,082 residents of Zanjan have been infected by coronavirus.

“Currently 230 confirmed cases are hospitalized across Hormozgan,” reported Hossein Farshidi, president of Hormozgan University of Medical Science. “56 of them are in ICU wards and 16 of them are in a critical condition.” He also added to the schools debate, insisting that classes must be held online where possible. 

“Considering the figures, we predict that in the next two weeks the number of hospitalizations in Hormozgan will increase,” said Dr. Farshidi who reported that, as of Friday, September 4, a total of 710 coronavirus patients had lost their lives in Hormozgan.

In her daily briefing for September 5, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that 13 provinces were currently in a red state of alert and 15 provinces were 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 last 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 1,894

- New hospitalizations: 976

- Total cases since the outbreak: 384,666

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,355,152

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 332,131

- New fatalities: 110

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 22,154

 

September 8: 

A member of staff at a school is addressing a group of students, when suddenly, one of them staggers forward a few steps before falling to the ground. An 11-second video of this distressing event was posted on social media on September 7, feeding the already intense panic over the reopening of schools in Iran, and in particular the education ministry’s insistence that students must return to the classroom. 

If it wasn’t panic people were feeling, it was confusion, which was aided by education minister Mohsen Haji-Mirzaee being summoned to parliament and then his ensuing U-turn. It was not mandatory for students to attend in person, he said in direct contradiction to his previous statements. 

“Viral epidemics like influenza always start in schools and this is true of coronavirus as well,” said Dr. Payam Tabarsi, the head of the infectious diseases ward at the Tehran Masih Daneshvari Hospital, who said coronavirus infections would rise after schools reopened. “Therefore, gatherings in schools must not be allowed, to prevent children from transmitting this virus to other people.” 

He predicted that children would be unlikely to be badly affected on the whole. “The teachers, the parents, the siblings and nurses — they are all at risk,” warned Dr. Tabarsi. “Even if the school follows health protocols the risk still exists because in hospitals where these protocols are observed to the letter nurses and doctors get infected by this virus. Of course, medical staff have no choice because it is their job, but for children, other arrangements must be made.” He also warned that if too many children needed to be hospitalized, there would not be enough hospital beds for them.

“The decision by the National Coronavirus Taskforce and the government to reopen schools [stated that] attending schools in person was not mandatory and that it is the duty of the government to provide students with an education,” said Ali Rabiei, the government’s spokesman, in his September 8 press conference. He also claimed that 86,000 schools in Iran had been connected to the internet and that teachers were entitled to use it for free.

This year, Arbaeen, the 40th day of Imam Hossein’s martyrdom in 680 AD, falls on October 7. On this day, many Shias traditionally travel to Iraq to mourn in Karbala, where Imam Hossein was killed, but the Iraqi government has repeatedly warned that it was not going to allow foreign pilgrims into the country. On September 7, Seif al-Badr, the spokesman for Iraq’s ministry of health, reiterated that the ban on foreign pilgrims remained in force.

A delegation from the Iranian embassy in Baghdad met with Nasif Jasem al-Khatabi, governor of Karbala, in a bid to negotiate, but al-Khatabi made it clear that Iraqi officials would not be changing their minds. “Considering the coronavirus and the possible consequences, the Iraqi government is not ready to accept pilgrims for Arbaeen,” he said.

 

Runoff Elections

Another event that will be affected by the pandemic is the forthcoming runoff elections for the parliament. They were originally scheduled for April 29 but were postponed because of the virus and are now scheduled for Friday, September 11. The first round of the elections for 290 representatives was held on February 21 in 208 precincts, a day after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran was officially announced. In 11 precincts, the results were not final. The second round of the elections will be held in 24 counties in nine provinces.

Amid reports that a Russian coronavirus vaccine could be on the market by the week beginning September 14, Iran continued to claim that it was continuing its efforts to develop its own vaccine. Dr. Alireza Biglari, president of Iran’s Pasteur Institute, said that a number of Iranian companies had completed the animal testing phase, necessary to the development of any vaccine, and the results were being assessed. In the first phase of testing on humans, he said, the vaccine was only being tested “on a few people to make sure that it is not dangerous and is relatively effective. In the second phase, it is tested on more people, meaning between 100 and 200. In the third phase it might be tested on between 30,000 and 40,000 volunteers and results would decide whether the vaccine is effective and safe.”

Until such time that a vaccine becomes available, however, coronavirus infections and fatalities across Iran continue. Dr. Mohammad Hossein Sumi, president of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, reported that, following a month and a half of a second wave of coronavirus in East Azerbaijan, the number of infections in the province is rising again. According to him, currently an average of 40 percent of coronavirus tests in the province are positive. “Until September 3, the rate of coronavirus infections in East Azerbaijan was normal but, since then, the rate has been gradually going up,” he reported. “And now the rate of mortalities among women is getting close to that of men in the province, whereas, in the past, fatalities among men were twice that of women.” He said that currently 700 Covid-19 patients had been hospitalized across the province.

In her daily briefing for September 8, the 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 last 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 2,302

- Total cases since the outbreak: 391,112

- New hospitalizations: 1,226

- Total Covid-19 patients in ICUs: 3,713

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,431,646

- Total recovered from coronavirus or released from the hospital: 337,414

- New fatalities: 132

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 22,542

 

September 11: 

President Rouhani’s administration has been harshly criticized for its handling of school re-openings on September 5, including by state institutions. Chief among complaints were those against the official statement that it was mandatory for children to attend classrooms in person, a decision that the government later reversed. 

In a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, September 9, President Rouhani urged his critics not to compare Iran with other countries because the Islamic Republic was different due to its unique religious and cultural heritage, but also because it was under brutal sanctions. “We are under sanctions, and the people consider their religious rituals to be important,” he said. He claimed that Muharram religious ceremonies were held “while observing all health guidelines,” a refrain several officials have used in recent weeks and which was not backed up by any evidence. Rouhani went on to insist that Iranians also valued their children’s education, a reminder of his grand statement “We will prove that the dichotomy between education and health is a false one,” which he initially said on September 5, the day schools re-opened. 

While defending the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s decision to reopen schools, Rouhani, in line with the government’s apparent U-turn, said students did not have to attend classes in person. “Students must not fall behind in their education,” he said. “There is no coercion and we do not force any family to go to school in person [but] the doors to schools and universities are open. This is an important point for the government.”

Ali Karimi Firouzjaee, a member of the parliament’s board of governors, added his voice to the swell of criticism of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s decision to reopen schools. He said he was giving the taskforce a “fail grade” and announced that the parliament will “do its duty” to protect students, “body and soul.”

This year, Arbaeen, the 40th day of Imam Hossein’s martyrdom in 680 AD, falls on October 7. On this day, many Shias traditionally travel to Iraq to mourn in Karbala where he was killed. But this year the Iraqi government has repeatedly warned that it would not allow foreign pilgrims into the country. Nevertheless, Nosratollah Lotfi, vice president of Islamic Development Coordination Council, announced that the Supreme Leader insisted ceremonies will go ahead in Iran with “passion.” He added: “We have said that the ceremonies cannot be canceled. But they will be held while following health guidelines.”

 

Provinces Round-up

For weeks now Tehran province has been the hardest hit province, and has been continuously in a red, or emergency, state of alert. More than 3,000 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized across the province, one-third of whom are in a critical condition. The daily coronavirus statistics announced by the Ministry of Health give a clearer understanding of what this means. According to these figures, every day somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 hospitalized Covid-19 patients across Iran are in a critical condition. Therefore, Tehran’s share is almost one-fourth of the total.

Announcing that on Tuesday, September 8, 36 Covid-19 patients had died in Tehran, Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, governor of the province, concluded that the epidemic in Tehran is on an upward curve. “With the arrival of the fall and the increase in pulmonary and respiratory complaints and influenza, the concern is that coronavirus cases and hospitalizations will increase but, with an increase in the distribution of flu vaccines compared to last year we hope to contain the spread of influenza.”

Officials had promised that the distribution of the flu vaccine would begin in August, but it has now been postponed until later in September. It remains unclear how the distribution will be organized and conducted.

In the province of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad 257 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized, 130 of whom have tested positive, reported Dr. Parviz Yazdanpanah, president of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad University of Medical Sciences. “The number of Covid-19 cases in the city of Boyer Ahmad is rising,” he said. “On Tuesday the number of patients who tested positive in this city was 60 percent of the total for the whole province. The rise in infections and hospitalizations in Boyer Ahmad is alarming and, if this trend continues, we will have more fatalities in the coming weeks.”

In her daily briefing for September 9, the 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 last 24 hours:

- New confirmed coronavirus cases: 2,313

- Total cases since the outbreak: 393,425

- New hospitalizations: 1,229

- Total Covid-19 patients in ICUs: 3,735

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 3,457,743

- Total recovered or who were able to leave the hospital: 393,425

- New fatalities: 127

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 22,669

 

September 13: 

The head of Tehran University of Medical Sciences has complained that President Rouhani has not done enough to thank medical staff dealing with the capital’s coronavirus crisis. 

On September 13, Abas Ali Karimi expressed dissatisfaction with Rouhani’s official reopening of universities and institutes of higher education on September 5, which was done online. “It would have been great and very appropriate if Mr. President would have come among us here and spoken a few words of thanks to health workers and medical staff,” he said. “We are not at the end of the road and we have long days and months ahead of us, so perhaps this would have reenergized us a little bit.”

But health minister Saeed Namaki defended Rouhani. “The president has always been enthusiastic about joining gatherings of university people but it was not possible because of our pressure to follow health protocols to safeguard government officials.”

Karimi was not alone in challenging the way Iran’s senior officials were handling health protocols and reopenings. Many people pointed out that President Rouhani had reopened schools and universities remotely, that the Supreme Leader had held a one-man mourning ceremony for the martyrdom of Imam Hossein and yet, Rouhani had insisted that pupils return to the classroom in person and encouraged people to organize mourning ceremonies “passionately.” People wanted to know: Do the lives and the health of government officials take priority over the lives and the health of students?

Regarding the occasion of universities reopening, Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, who is both the health ministry spokeswoman and the Deputy Minister for Cultural and Student Affairs, warned that the reopenings did not mean the pandemic emergency situation was over. All educational services must be made available while following health protocols, she said.

The cold season is not long-off. Officials had promised that by August a flu vaccine would be made available on a vast scale, but this has been postponed for weeks. Many people have expressed concern about how the flu vaccine will be distributed amid rumors that it will be rationed.

On September 8, member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce Masoud Mardani claimed that the health ministry had ordered the flu vaccine, that it had been imported and “would be made available to individuals at risk as soon as possible.” He said that a domestically-made flu vaccine had not been produced on a mass scale and that people should not expect such a product to be on the market this year. “It will take a year for all phases of animal and human testing,” he said. 

Many of the symptoms of flu are similar to coronavirus symptoms and, for this reason, international health organizations advise flu vaccination as a way of preventing confusion and wasting resources on diagnosis. But Dr. Mohsen Zahraei, an official with the Iranian health ministry in charge of vaccinations, downplayed the effectiveness of this advice. “First and foremost, the flu vaccine is very specialized and does nothing to prevent Covid-19,” he said. “Second, even in the best of situations, the flu vaccine is only between 60 and 70 percent effective. As a result, even if everybody receives the flu vaccine, they will not be 100 percent protected against flu. More attention must be paid to preventive measures such as using masks and regular washing of hands.” 

 

Provinces Round-up

Currently, in the province of Mazandaran, 647 patients with coronavirus symptoms are in hospitals run by the Mazandaran and Babol universities of medical sciences. Health officials have expressed worries that the arrival of autumn will usher in a third wave of coronavirus.

In the last 48 hours, 47 new coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Qazvin province, bringing the current total of hospitalizations in the province to 328, reported Peyman Namdar, president of Qazvin University of Medical Sciences. Of this number, he said, 64 are in ICUs.

Alborz province is in a yellow state of alert, not red or orange. However, news from the last few days suggests the situation could change. On September 12 and 13, 553 outpatients with coronavirus symptoms attended medical centers in the province, and 84 of them were hospitalized because they were in a critical condition, reported Dr. Mohammad Fathi, president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences. In the last 24 hours, he added, six Covid-19 patients died, bringing the total coronavirus death toll in the province since the outbreak to 1,015. Currently, he said, 433 patients with coronavirus symptoms are hospitalized across the province.

In her daily briefing for September 13, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said that currently 13 provinces are in a red state of alert and 16 provinces are in an orange state.

 

In recent weeks, the three provinces of North Khorasan, Semnan and Isfahan have had the highest number of Covid-19 fatalities.

“There are no ‘green’ — meaning free of coronavirus — zones in Iran,” announced Dr. Lari. “The highest rate of compliance with health protocols, 82.8 percent, can be found at government offices, while the lowest rate of compliance exists at shopping centers, with 38.1 percent and at bakeries, at 44.03 percent. According to the latest figures, 75.5 percent of people wear masks in public places.”

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

 

 

September 16:

Two weeks since the religious holidays, as predicted, Iran now appears to be on the brink of a third wave of domestic coronavirus outbreak. The most significant contributing factors in the recent surge in cases are festivities and gatherings during the holy month of Muharram, holiday travel and, additionally, the recent reopening of schools and universities.

On Wednesday, September 16, health minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei warned of a high number of new infections among children and the adolescents. “The reason fewer children were infected during the first wave was that the schools were closed in March,” he said. “But now more children have been afflicted, this is speeding up transmission of the virus from them to other members of their families. In this new phase, we are losing many elderly people.”

It followed news the previous day that the number of coronavirus cases in Tehran alone had soared from 900 to 1,800 in a week. Payam Tabarsi, the vice president of Tehran’s Masih Daneshvari Hospital, warned that the number of Covid-19 outpatients had almost tripled. “Unfortunately,” he added, “we are getting close to a third wave.”

Health minister Saeed Namaki claimed: “Because of the new surge that is gathering pace in the country, I did not sleep a wink last night.” Like many other Iranian officials, Namami praised the organizers of Muharram ceremonies for following the guidelines, but blamed holiday travelers who ignored “our pleadings to avoid traveling.” In other words, the events were not at fault – just those that attended them.

The situation in Tehran appears to be being mirrored across the country, with at least 27 of 31 Iranian provinces now coed “red” or “orange”: that is to say, in a state of high alert. But on Wednesday the health minister also conceded that the color-coding system officials have deployed for the past few months could be confusing and counterproductive.

“Our planning for the short term and medium term must be flexible,” Namaki said, “and it must not be based on the red, orange, yellow and white states of alerts because the situation in these zones can change very rapidly and this will lead to confusion.”

 

‘Too Early’ to Consider Shutting Schools

Not two weeks since schools reopened in Iran, reports have already surfaced of some students being hospitalized or even dying because of Covid-19 – despite the fact that as younger people, they should be the most resilient to coronavirus disease. The National Coronavirus Taskforce and President Rouhani’s administration insisted on reopening schools despite widespread concern, including on the part of medical professionals in Iran, about the impact it would have.

Mohammad Mohsen-Beigi, director-general of the education ministry’s health department, argued that available evidence did not support the claim the reopening of the schools had led to an increase in cases. It was therefore not yet clear, he said, whether schools should be closed again or not.

 “The authority for making this decision rests with the National Coronavirus Taskforce and, as of now, they not made such an announcement,” he said. “Note that the schools were reopened around two weeks ago and, for the moment, we have no evidence that the reopenings have increased the rate of coronavirus infections. We need more time to consider this issue.”

 

In the Midst of a Pandemic, Winter Flu Rears its Head

The reopening of schools, Muharram mourning ceremonies and the approaching cold season are harbingers of more difficult times to come. In recent days, health ministry officials and the Iranian Red Crescent Society have made divergent claims about the availability and distribution of ordinary winter flu vaccine. One of these was that Iran had imported 10 to 12 million doses of this year’s vaccine, and it was promised that the distribution of the vaccine would start at the beginning of autumn.

But on Wednesday, September 16, Saeed Namaki revealed that the promised doses of vaccine have not been even purchased. “We are facing difficulties in transferring currency to purchase the flu vaccine,” he said. “The deputy head of the Food and Drug Administration reported that the bank that was supposed to receive the funds for the flu vaccine has refused to transfer the money – and the channel for transferring currency has been blocked by sanctions. Of course, I do not want to make anybody nervous, because our efforts continue.”

 

Provinces Round-up

The situation in Isfahan, according to provincial officials, is now critical. In the past 40 days five expecting mothers in the province have died from Covid-19 and the number of coronavirus hospitalizations has exceeded 3,000.

The number of fatalities in the Isfahan has also tripled, reported Dr. Behrouz Kalidari of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences. On Wednesday, he said, “2,700 new coronavirus patients were diagnosed across Iran, 938 of whom were in Isfahan. In other words, 40 percent of these cases were in Isfahan and this is the highest rate of infections in the country.” The daily number of coronavirus deaths, he said, was equivalent to one fatal minibus crash per day in Isfahan; in the past 55 days Covid-19 has claimed the lives of at least 740 people in the province.

Dr. Kalidari also had some bad news about the aftermath of school reopenings. “In the past two weeks,” he said, “48 teachers have been infected, 183 teachers have at least one Covid-19 patient at home, 163 students have been infected and 2,836 of students have an infected member in their family.”

In her daily briefing for September 16, health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the past 24 hours:

Dr. Lari also reported that currently 13 provinces are in a red state of alert and 15 provinces are in an orange state:

 

September 20:

One of the most serious problems Iran faces today is exhausted, overworked health workers, and the potential flu epidemic makes the situation all the more frightening. 

“Our biggest problem in facing a third wave of coronavirus is the exhaustion of our medical manpower,” said Ali Maher, planning deputy at the Metropolitan Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce. “Existing facilities are enough to handle the current situation, unless this wave proves to be even faster than the initial outbreak of the epidemic.”

All predictions indicate that with the arrival of the cold season, a flu epidemic could potentially lead to a prolonged and more complicated crisis. And yet the government has failed to import the necessary doses of flu vaccine, despite the fact that health officials had repeatedly promised to start distributing the vaccine. First they promised to do so in August, and more recently, they have insisted the process will begin in early autumn.

“The flu is an airborne virus and no precaution can succeed in preventing its transmission because it will continue to float in the air,” said Maher. “What is more, the flu virus has different strains and transmission can occur even from a distance of over 1.5 meters.” He pointed out that coronavirus behaved differently and suggested it was not as airborne as flu viruses tended to be.  

The prospect of a shortage in medical manpower is so serious that Shahin Mohammad-Sadeghi, head of the volunteer Medical Basij Community, announced that, in the coming months, it might become necessary to put volunteers through “a crash course” to equip them to be able to work on intensive care (ICU) and coronary care (CCU) wards.

Agreeing that the spread of flu was likely to make the situation more difficult in the coming days, Dr. Minoo Moharez, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee, said: “coronavirus works like a time bomb that can explode at any minute and destroy the entire infrastructure. Coronavirus mutates continuously and the way it is transmitted can vary in different cities or countries. This makes it more difficult to diagnose and treat the illness. With even a single failure [in dealing with the virus] we can hurt not only ourselves but everybody else as well.”

She added that in June, the coronavirus mutated, causing greater numbers of infections across the country.

 

Provinces Round-up

Dr. Moharez also announced that situation in Tehran is now “more red,” meaning an even higher level of emergency than before. And, Dr. Alireza Zali, the director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, said on September 20 that the number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in Tehran had risen to 500 in the last 24 hours. He told the public to expect a new surge in the province.

In other provinces the number of cases is rapidly rising as well. Officially, Kermanshah province is in a yellow, or moderate, state of alert. But Dr. Mahmoud Reza Moradi, president of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences, said, “Considering the rise in cases, we must assume that the province is in a red state of alert when making decisions.”

In the last 20 days, he reported, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Kermanshah has risen from 170 to 362. “In the last 24 hours, 112 new coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the province and 95 patients were released from the hospital,” said Dr. Moradi. “The number of hospitalizations has exceeded the number of patients who are released by around 20 per day.” Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in Kermanshah, 912 people have lost their lives to the virus, he reported.

During the week of September 14, there were reports that a number of students and teachers in Isfahan had been infected with coronavirus. On September 19, it was reported that two children, six and nine years old, were among patients with acute respiratory syndrome to be hospitalized at Kashan’s Shahid Beheshti Hospital. “Currently there are 149 patients with acute respiratory syndrome at the hospital, of whom 30 are in the ICU ward,” said Dr. Alireza Moraveji, president of Kashan University of Medical Sciences.

“Wearing masks has fallen below 20 percent in the province of West Azerbaijan,” reported Dr. Javad Aghazadeh, president of the province’s University of Medical Sciences. “During the last month, the rate of coronavirus infections and fatalities in West Azerbaijan was stable, but in recent days this rate has been going up,” he said. He also warned that some hospitals in the province are running out of capacity.

Announcing that 130 new coronavirus patients have been hospitalized in Alborz province, Dr. Mohammad Fathi, president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences, reported that “currently 558 patients with coronavirus symptoms are hospitalized in the province and, as of now, 226 have tested positive for Covid-19.”

In the last 24 hours, one coronavirus patient died in Hormozgan province, bringing the death toll in the province to 752since the Covid-19 outbreak, reported Dr. Fatemeh Noroozian, spokeswoman for Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. “Currently 188 confirmed Covid-19 patients are hospitalized in the province,” she said. “Of this number, 53 are in ICU wards and 13 of them are in critical condition.”

 

 

In her daily briefing for September 20, health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours.

 

 

 

September 21: 

Iranian pilgrims clashed with Iraqi border authorities during the third week of September after Iraq banned travel to the country to mark the Shia holiday of Arba’een. This year the holiday, the 40th day of the martyrdom of Imam Hossein on the Islamic lunar calendar, falls on October 8. Traditionally, thousands of Shia pilgrims travel to Karbala in Iraq to pray at his shrine, but this year, in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Iraqi government banned entry by foreign pilgrims. Iran’s Arba’een Organizing Headquarters also announced the cancelation of ceremonies in Iraq, but nevertheless, a number of pilgrims began traveling toward Iraqi borders. 

After a period of silence on the matter, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei addressed pilgrims himself on September 21. “If the headquarters says no to Arba’een marches, it means no,” he said. “Pilgrims must not go to the border and pay their respects.”

 

Officials Blame Sanctions for Flu Vaccine Shortage

Iran does not currently produce a flu vaccine, so the fact that Iran’s medical community has failed to import the needed levels of vaccine despite repeated promises has sent waves of panic across the country. The anticipated epidemic coupled with the ongoing coronavirus crisis could mean a spike in fatalities and a dangerous strain on Iran’s health facilities. 

Officials had initially promised that between 10 and 12 million doses of the vaccine would be imported from European countries, but the promise is yet to be realized. Instead, 22 million euros allocated for the purchase of the vaccine is currently sitting in a bank in Turkey, blocked as a result of sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The president of Iran’s Food and Drug Administration informed the public that Iran secured the currency “by going through a lot of trouble,” and agreements have now been signed. But, said Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz,  the “cruel sanctions” have made the transfer of funds extremely difficult. “When they say that medicine, vaccines and medical equipment are not under sanctions they are lying,” said Shanehsaz. “What does it mean when you prevent a bank from transferring funds? These mischiefs continue but we are trying to get these items as soon as possible.”

Nevertheless, Shanehsaz claimed that the necessary volume of vaccine for high-risk groups such as the elderly and pregnant women had already been imported. He said that, starting on September 22, the vaccine will be distributed by pharmacies through the Tracing, Tracking and Authentication Control (TTAC) system using patients’ or customers’ National ID Codes.

According to Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman, Iran currently had 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine for high-risk groups and the ministry is in the process of distributing them. “The priority of vaccination is with rural pregnant women,” she said.

The price of the flu vaccine is another issue about which the government has not been clear. Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz said that Iran purchased the vaccine at 4,200 tomans per dollar, lower than what neighboring countries had paid. When asked what it would cost the consumer, he said simply: “Prices are not going to be very high.”

But Ali Fatemi, vice president of the Iran Pharmacists Association, was able to give a more accurate answer. “The price of this vaccine to be offered to the public through private pharmacies has been estimated to be around 42,000 tomans ($10) but if it is imported at free-market currency prices it could cost more than 200,000 tomans ($48),” he said. He added that it was not possible to be exact.

Fatemi also said the vaccine would be made available for free to high-risk groups, but then emphasized: “Unfortunately, it seems as though people are not going to receive the expected doses of vaccine.”

On September 14, Ali Hemmati, president of Iran’s Red Crescent Society, had announced that Iran was paying between 5.9 and 7 euros for each dose of vaccine.

Sadat Lari reported on September 21 that Iran has preordered a coronavirus vaccine, following a statement by Health Minister Saeed Namaki, who said on September 19 that Iran will import 20 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine from India.

According to Sadat Lari, Iran has joined an alliance of 180 countries going by the name COVAX, a group that also includes 18 organizations and companies actively working toward the creation and production of a coronavirus vaccine. “The sale of the vaccine is contingent upon prepayment of 15 percent of the price by the country that wants to buy them,” she said. “And if they do not succeed [in making a vaccine] this fund is not returned. In the last meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce the payment of this 15 percent was approved and I believe it was paid on September 10.”

 

Provinces Round-up

Reporting that Khuzestan province faces a shortage of hospital beds, Dr. Mohammad Alavi, vice president of Khuzestan Jondishapur University of Medical Sciences, said: “No health system can have enough beds for all potential patients and, therefore, if the health system is overwhelmed by the number of patients, there will be difficulty in finding a bed.”

And Dr. Farhad Abolnejadian, president of the same university, pointed out that Khuzestan is in a red state of alert and reported that out of every 100,000 people in the province between 1.2 and 1.3 individuals are currently hospitalized.

In Zanjan province more than 50 percent of ICU patients are in a critical condition. “Currently 338 coronavirus patients are hospitalized across the province,” said Dr. Parviz Ghezelbash, president of Zanjan University of Medical Sciences. “Of this number 76 are in ICUs and 50 percent of them are in a critical condition.”

Dr. Ghezelbash said that rate of fatalities in Zanjan hospitals had fallen but predicted that in two or three weeks, with the resurgence of the epidemic, the number of fatalities will rise again.

On September 20 it was reported that 13 students had died from Covid-19 in the province of Kermanshah. However, Ebrahim Shakiba, vice president of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences, denied the report, though he said that since the coronavirus outbreak in the province eight children had contracted the virus and died from it in the province, and all of them were under five years of age. “This number has nothing to do with the reopening of schools because all these children were under five and they were not at school,” he said.

In her daily briefing for September 21, the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:

 

Dr. Lari also reported that of Iran’s 31 provinces, currently 24 provinces are in a red state of alert and five provinces are in an orange state.

 

 

September 26:

Iran prepares to impose new coronavirus lockdowns as cases rise

On Friday, September 25, according to official statistics, coronavirus claimed the lives of 207 Iranians. In the last few days, the record for daily confirmed cases was also broken. With the third wave of coronavirus underway, it can be expected that these records will continue to be broken.

President Rouhani announced new restrictions in Greater Tehran and said the new rules might be imposed in other cities as well. But, contrary to what one might expect, the new rules do not address the consequences of the government’s previous decisions to reopen schools and universities or, more importantly, regarding whether government employees worked remotely or in their normal places of work. Explaining the new “strict” rules at a meeting of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, Rouhani said: “We should not just somebody who does not wear a mask get away with it. Anybody who does not wear a mask should not have access to services. And action will be taken against a service provider who does not follow the rules.”

Pointing out that in recent weeks the transmission of the virus has increased due to the reopening of schools, religious ceremonies and holiday travels, Mohsen Farhadi, deputy head of the health ministry’s Workplace Safety Center, reported: “The National Coronavirus Taskforce has prepared a set of rules, including the possible shutdown of businesses. If the person [who violates the rules] is a government employee, he could face a written reprimand, losing one-third of his salary or the termination of his service. If the violations occur in a business unit then our colleagues can lock down the business for a month.”

In the last seven months people have greatly suffered economically and now they must pay the price for the government’s mistakes, while at the same time, according to official statistics, many more of them live under the poverty line.

 

Provinces Round-up

Reporting that approximately 47 percent of people in Isfahan province have not been following health guidelines, Abbas Rezaei, governor of Isfahan, announced that there would be no religious precessions, even symbolic ones, to mark Arba’een, the fortieth day of the martyrdom of Imam Hossein on October 7.

According to Isfahan officials, during mourning days to mark the martyrdom of Imam Hossein in late August, health protocols were ignored in the city of Khomeini Shahr,  resulting in some hospitals in the city becoming filled to capacity. As of September 26, the daily death toll from coronavirus in the city had reached 40. The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in Isfahan also rose to around 300 in a single day.

“Isfahan was doing a good job of managing [the epidemic] but places like Khomeini Shahr inflicted major damage to the province,” said Alireza Raeesi, a deputy health minister. “According to the reports that we have received, the rate of infections is very high because of ceremonies being held without following health protocols.”

Health minister Saeed Namaki predicted that the rate of fatalities in Isfahan would rise to “horrible” levels in the coming week.

The rise in the number of Covid-19 cases in Isfahan has been so high that, on September 23, Hojatollah Gholami, spokesman for the Isfahan Coronavirus Taskforce, reported that a “coronavirus guidance patrol” was being launched in cooperation with the police, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences and the paramilitary Basij volunteers to warn people if they violate health guidelines.

Kermanshah province is also in a critical situation and Houshang Bazvand, the provincial governor, ordered the shutdown of all schools until further notice. All tests requiring student attendance were also canceled. In the last two weeks, 300 new coronavirus patients have been hospitalized in the province.

Tehran is also in an extremely critical condition. Nahid Khoda-Karami, chairman of Tehran City Council’s Health Committee, claimed that every day, 90 people die from Covid-19 in Tehran. As of September 26, he said, 12,000 coronavirus patients had died in the city. “All private and state hospitals are filled to capacity and many people are running from hospital to hospital to find beds for members of their families who have come down with this disease,” she said.

In the last 24 hours the number of new hospitalized patients in Tehran climbed to 800, reported Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce. “Of this number around 125 have been hospitalized in ICUs,” he said. “The state of the epidemic in Tehran is such that it has put the city in a totally critical and dangerous situation.”

In her daily briefing for September 26, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours.

 

Dr. Lari also reported that out of the 31 Iranian provinces currently 24 provinces are in a red state of alert and five provinces are in an orange state.

 

p>September 27:

Coronavirus continues to ravage Iran. According to official figures, in the first six days of autumn, 1,109 people lost their lives to Covid-19. The Iranian government has been talking about imposing restrictions and even threatening to fine people who fail to comply with health protocols. State-run TV has begun broadcasting after a period of calm over the summer and, as coronavirus cases and fatalities rise, it has shown footage of crowded streets, routinely blaming the public for the spread of the virus. 

On Saturday, September 26, Iranian officials discussed new restrictions in greater Tehran and plans to impose fines on or even shut down businesses that do not comply with guidelines to protect people from coronavirus. Then, on September 27, Alireza Raeesi, a deputy health minister, announced plans for further measures to fine coronavirus patients who have tested positive but do not comply with rules for home quarantine. “These measures will be carried out in cooperation with experts, the judiciary and the police,” he said.

Pointing out that on September 26 alone, approximately 300 new patients were hospitalized in Tehran, Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, governor of Tehran province, said, “without a doubt, to fight coronavirus in Tehran, we need to speed up traffic, reduce congestion and impose restrictions. People who do not wear a mask will not be entitled to access services and government employees who do not comply with the rules shall be fined.”

Bandpey said his office had requested that a lockdown be imposed on contact sports, coffee shops, reception halls and other venues. Some Telegram channels linked to the government have reported that President Rouhani has banned Tehran’s governor from giving interviews until further notice because of his comments on restrictions in the capital but, as of now, official media outlets have not confirmed this report.

Hojjat Nazari, a member of Tehran City Council, appealed to Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) not to create division in society. “I ask IRIB and other media outlets to inform people more about coronavirus, but to avoid polarizing people by accusing groups of them of being responsible for the increase in coronavirus cases,” he said. “Continuously pointing the finger at a group of people in official media, especially IRIB, without paying attention to the responsibilities of relevant agencies can only result in the polarization of society. Under these conditions, it is up to the National Coronavirus Taskforce to come up with stricter rules for certain activities and travel.”

Although Nazari implied criticism of certain agencies, he did not talk further about what many people have claimed is the main reason for the virus spreading: government incompetence. A considerable number of people have said the significant increase in the number of infections and fatalities has been the result of bad government policies, not the public or individual groups acting irresponsibly.

 

Possible School and University Closures in Tehran

Despite Rouhani’s resistance toward lockdowns, on Saturday, September 26, First Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi reported that schools and universities, especially in Tehran, might be shut down for a week to begin with, and that the closure could then be extended. Harirchi also confirmed that close to 200 students across Iran had died from coronavirus. “In the last seven months more than 10,000 students have become ill with coronavirus. Of this number less than 200 have died,” he said. “But most of them got the virus from public places and their families, not from schools.”

Nevertheless, there are daily reports about teachers becoming infected by coronavirus, and about teachers who have died from it. Education ministry officials confirm some of these reports, but continue to insist that these cases are in no way related to these teachers being back at school. For example, on September 27, it was reported that two teachers in Kerman province had lost their lives to Covid-19 but Mashallah Mirza Hosseini, deputy head of Kerman Education Bureau, claimed that the deaths had nothing to do with their work.

Schools across Iran reopened on September 5, fueling concerns that students, teachers and school staff were being recklessly exposed to coronavirus. Objections and protests by parents, including on social media, as well as comments in the media forced the government to retreat from its insistence that students attend classes in person.

According to available statistics, since schools opened, about 10 percent of more than 14 million students in Iran have been attending classes in person, with other students taking classes online, or using options offered on public television or the education ministry’s SHAD app, though there are reports of multiple flaws with the app and other alternative educational options. In some cases, students do not have internet access, in others, students lack the necessary equipment, and other students are not learning because their parents do not believe online learning is acceptable. On September 26, a number of female students reported on social media that they had been forced to supply photographs for their online profiles of them wearing hijab.

The distribution of the flu vaccine among high-risk groups has been so slow and so limited that some people have said the distribution initiative may well not exist at all. Health ministry officials have appealed to people to be patient and insist that new shipments will arrive, and yet the time to achieve effective vaccination results is the beginning of autumn. The flu vaccine works by producing necessary antibodies in individuals two to four weeks after the vaccination. So there is significant concern that people are not able to access vaccines now, when they are most effective.

In her daily briefing for September 27, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:

 

Dr. Lari also reported that out of the 31 Iranian provinces, currently 30 provinces are in a high state of alert.

 

September 28:

“Iran now faces an uninterrupted epidemic,” the president of Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Dr. Abbas Ali Karimi, announced on September 28. The country continues to reel from its third devastating wave of coronavirus, and the new terminology coincided with a row between the health ministry and the central bank about medical staff not being paid and about what happened to the billion euros allocated to fight the crisis. It has become quite clear that a majority of Iranian health workers have not been paid for several months. But why? Where are the funds?

It has been more than seven months since the coronavirus outbreak started in Iran. The “uninterrupted epidemic” is the outcome of a chain of events: officials withholding information and refusing to acknowledge the outbreak when it first began, rallies to celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on February 11, parliamentary elections on February 21, religious ceremonies and processions during the holy months of Ramadan and Muharram, nationwide university entrance exams and the reopening of schools and universities. In the meantime, people have been given no choice but to travel to and from work to make a living.

While infections and fatalities rise, the clash between the health ministry and Iran’s Central Bank over the National Development Fund’s allocations to fight the pandemic continues. According to published reports, as of September 28, the health ministry has received only 27 percent of the total promised amount. Where is the remaining 73 percent of the one billion euros that had been allocated to the health sector?

A few days ago, in a letter to the public released online, Health Minister Saeed Namazi complained about the delay and said he felt ashamed before health workers because he had no budget to pay their unpaid wages throughout such difficult days.

After this address went online, Abdolnaser Hemmati, governor of the central bank, offered part of the agreed amount to the health ministry, but Saeed Namaki refused to accept it. “I was afraid that [receiving] this would create problems for the money supply and the economy,” he said on September 27. “So I ordered to return it. From now on we shall keep our mouths shut. My colleagues will work even if they do not get paid. We are here to sacrifice our lives.”

Prior to this, the governor of the central bank tried to justify the delay in the payment to the health ministry. “To control its balance sheet and to keep inflation down, the central bank has to resist certain requests even if they are justified,” he said. “Avoiding the conversion of the National Development Fund’s foreign currency to rial is part of this policy.”

But Hossein Ali Shahriari, chairman of the parliament’s Health Committee, challenged this explanation. “A billion dollars has been withdrawn from the fund but has been spent somewhere else,” he said. “The government must come clean and respond to the just demands of health workers. For close to 10 months employees and workers in this sector have not been paid and, what is more, the pressure of coronavirus has exhausted medical staff.”

His words are exactly what a group of nurses at Rouhani Hospital in the northern city of Babol wanted to hear. As videos posted on social media on September 28 show, the nurses held a rally on the hospital campus demanding an explanation as to why they had not been paid for their work, including overtime.

As the situation across the country became more critical, education minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei announced that the authority to close schools has now been passed to the interior and the health ministries. From now on, he said, his ministry is only responsible for providing students with different options for studying. He promised that problems with the education ministry’s SHAD remote learning app would be solved within a week.

High government officials continue to insist that the reopening of schools has not contributed to the recent surge in infections, and yet every day there are new reports of students and teachers being infected with Covid-19. On September 28, Hossein Argiv, governor of Fasa in Fars province, reported that 16 students and two teachers in the city had been infected. He said that affected schools have been closed down and “if, in any other school, the students show the tiniest symptoms of the disease, they will be quarantined for two weeks.”

 

Provinces Round-up

Figures reported from provinces show that the situation is even more critical than what official statistics had previously led the public to believe. Hospitals caring for Covid-19 patients in Urmia, the capital of West Azerbaijan, in Isfahan and in the city of Behbahan in Khuzestan report that they have been filled to capacity. During the third week of September, Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, the governor of Tehran province, had reported the same thing about hospitals in his province.

The crisis in Qazvin will lead to the province being locked down, according to Manouchehr Habibi, deputy governor of the province. On September 27 he proposed the closing down of universities, schools, seminaries, vocational schools, gyms, theaters, reception halls, restaurants, coffee shops and hairdressing salons for between one and two weeks. However, such measures for lockdown must be approved by interior and health ministries. In the last 24 hours a record number of 70 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Qazvin and 12 Covid-19 patients died.

Also, in the last 24 hours in Alborz province, 10 Covid-19 patients died, bringing the total death toll for the province to 1,164, reported Mohammad Fathi, president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences. In the same time period, 93 new patients were hospitalized.

In her daily briefing for September 28, health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours.

 

 

Dr. Lari also reported that out of the 31 Iranian provinces, currently 30 provinces are in a high state of alert.

 

 

 

September 29: Official Calls for “Military-Style” Response to People Who Break the Rules

The rapidly deepening coronavirus crisis in Iran has prompted government officials to consider new restrictions and plans to impose fines on people who fail to comply with health guidelines.

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei stated on September 29 that only  58 percent of the population was wearing masks.  “Health guidelines are not fully observed in public places,” he said. “The National Coronavirus Taskforce has given more authority to provinces to take limited legal action against individuals who do not wear masks.”

Prior to this, on Sunday, September 27, Alireza Raeesi, a deputy health minister, had announced plans for further measures to fine coronavirus patients who have tested positive but fail to comply with home quarantine. “These measures will be carried out in cooperation with the experts, the judiciary and the police,” he said.

“The epidemic requires a tough, military-style response,” said Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, in an interview on the same day. “About the reopenings, I must say that they were hastily done in Tehran and affected the surge of the epidemic. And in addition to all this we have another problem as well, and that is enacting deterrent laws, although the National Coronavirus Taskforce is working on it.”

Dr. Zali continued: “We are going to deal with people who do not follow health guidelines as they do in 156 countries in the world. We can no longer beg people to follow the protocols. The epidemic requires a tough, military-style response. Of course, this does not mean that we should start treating people violently from tomorrow, but we cannot limit ourselves to advice and recommendations because it ends up hurting others. Therefore, violators must be punished.”

Farnoush Nobakht, the CEO of Tehran Metro Operating Co., said it was the National Coronavirus Taskforce's responsibility to set up a procedure to fine people who traveled on the metro without wearing masks. “There has been talk about fining individuals who do not wear masks in the metro but we cannot take such action independently,” he said. “We must follow the National Coronavirus Taskforce and its orders.”

Addressing the issue of the number of people using the metro, he said, “We cannot take specific action to reduce the number of Tehran metro users. We can only ask people to use the metro less.”

Tehran’s metro stations and trains are currently over-crowded, but so are emergency rooms. Dr. Mohammad Reza Hashemian, a specialist in intensive care, said even outpatients are forced to wait in long lines to be admitted to the emergency rooms. He described the situation in Tehran as “dark” and “critical” and reported that hospitals had run out of ICU beds. “Most private hospitals are either not permitted to admit coronavirus patients or do not want to, especially since private hospitals are not receiving the necessary medicine to treat coronavirus patients,” he said.

Health minister Saeed Namaki issued orders to punish government employees who violate coronavirus-related regulations. According to these orders, violators will at first be reprimanded in writing without the reprimand being included in their dossiers but, if the violations continue, the reprimand will go on their record.

Dr. Hashemian also reported that Remdesivir, a pharmaceutical that has proven effective in treating the symptoms of coronavirus, is being sold in the open market for eight million tomans, or over US$1,900 per vial. “In state hospitals only one or two doctors are permitted to prescribe Remdesivir,” he said. “That is why most coronavirus patients who need this medication go to the open market. The Iranian-brand Remdesivir that is sold for between 700 thousand and 1.2 million tomans ($167-$287) in hospitals costs eight million tomans in the open market.”

Commenting on the rise of coronavirus cases in recent weeks, Dr. Ehsan Mostafavi, an epidemiologist and a member of Institute Pasteur of Iran’s Scientific Board, said: “When coronavirus hospitalizations increase we will witness an increase in the number of fatalities in about two weeks,” he said. “Therefore, we must expect fatalities to surge in the coming weeks.”

In her daily briefing for September 29, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours. 

 

Dr. Lari also reported that out of the 31 Iranian provinces currently 30 provinces are in a high state of alert.

 

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

 

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