After 10 months of non-stop struggle against the pandemic, Iran’s medical community is exhausted and many health workers have had to leave the workforce after becoming ill. According to the latest information, approximately 40,000 nurses in Iran have been infected with coronavirus, reducing the medical workforce significantly. One of the main reasons behind the recent extensive lockdowns was to give the medical workforce an opportunity to recuperate from these losses, and it appears that, with the drop in the number of hospitalizations in Iran, as meager as it might be, this goal has been achieved to a certain point.
“As of now we have received permits to hire 7,000 health workers, 30 percent of whom will be nurses," said Maryam Hazrati, deputy health minister for nursing. “Also, the deputy minister for development has received the go-ahead to hire 30,000 health workers and we hope that a significant portion of them will be nurses so that we can partially compensate for the shortage.”
In addition to everything else, the payment of the salaries of many health workers who work for universities of medical sciences across Iran have not been processed.“The arrears in the case of some universities has been reduced from 14 months to around six months and we hope that the accounts will be settled soon,” Hazrati said.
Coronavirus Numbers Fall but Health Officials Warn the Situation is Still “Fragile”
Less than three weeks after extensive lockdowns were imposed on many cities across Iran, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations and fatalities has dropped and the level of alert in many cities has been downgraded from red to orange. Nevertheless, health officials continue to warn people that the situation is still fragile and another coronavirus surge is possible, along with it the possibility that Iran could return to the critical situation it experienced in the weeks preceding the lockdowns.
In the meantime, there were widespread reports about the development of a domestic vaccine and the purchase of vaccines from other countries. Some of these reports, however, were confusing and contradictory.
On Sunday, December 6, Dr. Minoo Moharez, the lead scientist in the development of a domestic vaccine and a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s Scientific Committee, had reported that the vaccine would go into production by next summer. A day later, however, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, deputy speaker of the parliament, tweeted that administration of the vaccine would begin after the start of the new Iranian calendar year on March 21. “Today we had a meeting with the scientists and the officials of responsible agencies about the production of an Iranian Covid-19 vaccine,” he wrote. “What became clear was that the first doses of the vaccine will be ready by the end of the [Iranian] year and the mass production will start after the new year.”
According to Dr. Moharez, the domestic vaccine, like those developed in China and Russia, is based on the “weakened” strains of coronavirus.
Speaking about importing foreign-made Covid-19 vaccines, Abdolnaser Hemmati, governor of Iran’s Central Bank, announced that every effort to buy vaccines from abroad had been blocked by American sanctions and because the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control had refused to issue the permits. “Of course, we are exploring other ways to transfer the money,” he said.
On the same day, however, Masoud Mardani, a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, said sanctions would have no effect on the distribution of coronavirus vaccines. “We are not a poor country and, when the time comes, the government of the Islamic Republic will definitely buy the vaccine for high-risk groups until the development of a domestic vaccine bears fruit,” he said.
Dr. Mohammad Talebpour, president of Tehran’s Sina Hospital, reported that, starting two weeks ago, the number of hospitalizations at the institution had fallen by 50 percent. He said that of the four wards allocated to Covid-19 patients, one has been closed and a second one might be closed soon. Nevertheless, he said the current situation is very fragile. “Compared to last week, our fatalities this week have been less, but not to a very significant degree.”
Reza Hesari, 37, an employee of the Waste Management Organization of Tehran responsible for collecting the waste from three hospitals in the Iranian capital, died from coronavirus after a year working with the organization. Waste management workers and garbage collectors are among the groups at high risk of coronavirus infection, especially if they are assigned to hospitals and other treatment centers.
According to the Waste Management Organization’s public relations office, currently 120 special trucks and 120 operators are tasked with collecting garbage from hospitals and treatment centers in Tehran.
Nighttime Traffic Curfew to Continue in Tehran
Tehran’s state of alert was downgraded from red to orange on Saturday, December 5, but Colonel Jahan-Shah Bahram Abadi, deputy commander of the Greater Tehran Highway Police, announced that the traffic curfew from 9pm to 4am will remain in place. He reported an increase in traffic in the capital since Saturday.
There were reports that some car owners had defaced their license plates to bypass restrictions and to confuse surveillance cameras. Colonel Bahram Abadi warned drivers who did this “not only commit traffic violations but they are considered lawbreakers and will be sent to court.”
In other news from Tehran, the management of Milad Tower, a multi-purpose complex including a five-star hotel, announced that since the nation’s capital is now in an orange state of alert, it was ready to accept tourists.
In the 24-hour period from December 6 to December 7, four coronavirus patients died in Kermanshah, bringing the death toll for the province to 1,318. Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences reported that the number of hospitalizations and outpatients continues to fall. Nevertheless, with the increase in the number of gatherings and ceremonies, health officials worry that the number of infections will rise again.
Currently, 517 Covid-19 patients are hospitalized across Kermanshah, a drop of 1,200, or 57 percent, compared to November 7.
In Semnan, too, the number of Covid-19 fatalities has fallen and it is now an average of one per day. The coronavirus death toll in the province now stands at 791. Provincial health officials believe the significant drop is a result of the two-week extensive lockdowns that started on November 21 and were extended for a longer period in red and orange areas. In the last week, the number of fatalities in Semnan reached two digits only once.
In the last 24 hours, 51 new patients were hospitalized in Semnan, bringing the total number of hospitalizations in the province to 285, the lowest number since the latest coronavirus surge in the province.
In Khuzestan, 50 percent of ICU beds allocated to Covid-19 patients were occupied as of December 7, reported Dr. Farhad Abolnejadian, president of Ahvaz Jondishapur University of Medical Sciences. He expressed concern that the situation might deteriorate with the arrival of winter because “doors would be closed and heaters would be turned on.”
In the last week, some cities in Khuzestan have been hit hard by floods, raising the prospect that coronavirus could surge again in the province.
Iran’s Latest Coronavirus Statistics
In her daily briefing for December 7, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari announced the official coronavirus statistics for the last 24 hours:
Dr. Lari reported that currently 64 cities are in a red state of alert, 278 are in orange and 106 are in yellow.
This is part of IranWire's coronavirus chronology. Read the full chronology