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Months into COVID-19, Iran sees worst wave of virus deaths People

Months into COVID-19, Iran sees worst wave of virus deaths People


Tehran, AP: Iran’s capital has run out of
intensive care beds as the country
confronts a new surge of infections that
is filling hospitals and cemeteries alike.
The single-day death toll hit a record
high three times this week.
Eight months after the pandemic first
stormed Iran, pummelling its already
weakened economy and sickening officials
at the highest levels of its government,
authorities have not been able to prevent
its spread. In a country devastated by
American sanctions, the government
considers an economic shutdown like the
ones imposed in Europe and the United
States impossible.
“The pandemic will not get any better in
our country soon,” said Mohadeseh Karim, a
23-year-old college student in Tehran. “It
is only getting worse day by day.”
On social media, Iranians describe chaotic
scenes at overwhelmed hospitals. On state
TV, gravediggers can be seen breaking new
ground in vast cemeteries for virus
victims, as the daily death toll shattered
records Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. A
top health official announced that overall
hospitalisations in Tehran, the capital,
were up 12 per cent more than in even
previous virus surges. Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered
military hospitals to boost their
capacities.
Intensive care
“The situation is very critical,” said
Mino Mohraz, a member of the country’s
coronavirus task force who said intensive
care units in the capital are full. “There
is not an empty bed for any new patient.”
Contradictory messages and measures have
plagued the government’s virus response,
helping propel the country’s toll of
29,600 reported deaths to No. 1 in the
Middle East. At first, officials sought to
play down the virus, and international
experts accused them of covering up the
scale of the outbreak.
Authorities declined to close crowded
shrines and instead rallied citizens for a
parliamentary election and the anniversary
of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in
February. As infections swelled in late
March, the government briefly ordered
offices and nonessential businesses to
shut. Roughly two weeks later, shops and
restaurants reopened in major cities. Last
month, the government pushed for schools -
which had been closed since March - to
reopen.
But more recently, authorities have
introduced restrictions and delivered
dramatic warnings. One hospital director
told state TV the death toll could reach
what Iran incurred in eight years of
bloody war with Iraq in the 1980s, a
conflict that killed a total of 1 million
people on both sides. Deputy Health
Minister Iraj Harirchi, who tested
positive for the virus in March after
dismissing reports of fatalities as hype,
declared this week that Iran’s true death
toll was likely twice the official count.
The virus continues to afflict top Iranian
officials, most recently the head of the
country’s atomic energy agency and its
vice president in charge of budget and
planning. In the spring, the virus killed
one of Khamenei’s senior advisers.
The government, however, continues to
oppose a nationwide lockdown, seeking to
salvage an economy buckling under
unprecedented US sanctions imposed after
President Donald Trump withdrew from
Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
As the government pivots back and forth,
“Iranians are getting confused about what
is right and what is wrong,” said Kamiar
Alaei, an Iranian health policy expert at
California State University, Long Beach.
Ordinary Iranians, accustomed to calamity
and highly sceptical of state-run news and
official claims, are still packing cafes,
bazaars and restaurants, throwing caution
to the wind.
Reza Ghasemi, a 31-year-old cellphone
salesman sitting at a crowded cafe in the
capital, said he believes the virus is a
conspiracy to “frighten poor people.”
Still, in Tehran, a sprawling city of 10
million people where the virus has left
few untouched, there are signs that fear
is setting in.
Shocked by the soaring death rate, a
growing number of Tehran residents have
come to support tighter pandemic
restrictions and obey the new mask mandate
imposed this month. At a teahouse popular
with labourers in the capital, an
Associated Press journalist counted just
13 out of 57 customers who entered without
a mask. In a suburban cafe, a mere six of
79 customers flouted the rule, a marked
improvement after months of public
indifference.
“We lose scores of lives every day,” said
Saeed Mianji, a 27-year-old car dealer at
a Tehran cafe. Masks “save more lives and
enable people to feel relief.”
Authorities, trying to take tougher
action, closed down a range of public
places in Tehran early this month. Weeks
after President Hassan Rouhani called in-
person instruction at schools “our first
priority,” the government shut the newly
resumed schools and universities in the
capital. Beauty salons, mosques, museums
and libraries have been shuttered, too. On
Wednesday, the Health Ministry imposed a
travel ban to and from five major cities,
including Tehran and the holy city of
Mashhad, ahead of a religious holiday.
Iran’s health minister called on the
police and Basij forces, the volunteer
wing of the country’s paramilitary
Revolutionary Guard, to help enforce virus
rules.
Photo enforcement of the mask law has
started at traffic lights, applying the
same technology police use for the
country’s compulsory headscarf rule for
women. In the coming days, Tehran
residents caught without masks, who now
get off with a warning, may get a cash
fine - although at just 500,000 rials, or
$1.60, it remains symbolic. “Our main goal
is not to give tickets but to raise
awareness,” said Ali Rabiei, the
government spokesman.
While several countries are struggling
with resurgences of the virus, the scale
of Iran’s outbreak points to
“mismanagement” at the highest levels,
said Abbas Abdi, a Tehran-based political
analyst.
“Resolving the crisis requires unity,
power, managerial efficiency and
ultimately trust in policymakers and
officials,” Abdi said. In Iran, he added,
“none of this exists.”

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