Third country in the world most affected by the coronavirus with 853 deaths and 14,991 cases, the Islamic Republic of Iran has struck the public by its chaotic management of the epidemic. The official figures provided by the authorities indeed suggest a mortality rate of 3.5%, much higher than that of China or Italy, which caused a strong suspicion within the population, which fears a real balance sheet much higher. Officially, the first two cases of Covid-19 were identified in the holy city of Qom, southwest of Tehran, on February 19. However, these statements by the Iranian Ministry of Health were contradicted barely five days later by Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a deputy from the Holy City, for whom the virus, which had killed “50 people” on the evening of February 24, was actually appeared in Iran earlier this month.
Already quite started after the bloody repression of the demonstrations in November 2019 as well as by the revelation of Iran’s lie on the origin of the crash of the Ukraine Airlines Boeing, shot down by mistake on January 8 by the Revolutionary Guards, Iranians’ distrust of their authorities has only grown stronger as reports of their refusal to take drastic measures in the early days of the epidemic have grown.
Throughout the month of February, commercial flights between Iran and China continued, the maintenance of economic exchanges with Beijing being vital for Tehran, hit hard by American sanctions. Likewise, the Iranian government has always refused to quarantine the city of Qom, or to close its religious seminary through which thousands of worshipers pass daily. Meanwhile, trenches were dug in the Behesteh-Massoumeh cemetery, the largest in the Holy City, to house the graves of the many victims of coronavirus, according to satellite images revealed by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
If the virus first appeared in Qom from China, it spread like wildfire across the country, favored in this sense by the continuation of road, rail and air links across Iranian territory . “Two weeks before the official announcement of the first cases of coronavirus, we saw an increase in the cases of patients suffering from respiratory distress with one to four deaths each evening,” said Reza *, a doctor from the city of Bandar Abbas, in the far south of the country. “Everyone knew these cases were related to the coronavirus, but health officials insisted that they only be called influenza pneumonia. ”
After the formalization of the first cases of Covid-19 in Qom, medical personnel in Bandar Abbas logically request that they be protected accordingly. “At the end of a meeting, the official refused to provide us with masks, arguing that this would cause panic in people,” says Reza. And it is only after going on strike that doctors are successful. “They only received simple masks, which had nothing to do with the more sophisticated ones that are available in Tehran. One of our doctors contacted the coronavirus and has since been quarantined, ”says the practitioner. “Officials claimed that Covid-19 was not a serious virus, so health regulations were not followed vis-à-vis medical personnel. ”
Nearly a month after the virus appeared in Iran, the country experienced its heaviest daily balance on Monday, with 1,053 new cases and 129 deaths. However, the authorities finally seem to have taken measures to rise to the crisis. The Ministry of Health urged people to stay at home and cancel their trips, while hotels are gradually closing their doors in the provinces. Friday prayers have been canceled across the country, and the Fatima Masoumeh shrine in Qom, the Shah-Abdol-Azim shrine in Tehran, and the Imam Reza mausoleum in Machhad (northeast) are now more accessible to the public. “It should have happened from day one,” insists Reza. “All those suffering from respiratory problems should have been hospitalized and separated from other patients one to two weeks before the official announcement. Clearly, we have suffered from mismanagement. ”
One week before the celebrations of Norouz, the Iranian New Year which takes place on March 20, Tehran is unrecognizable. “The city is relatively empty and the majority of residents stay at home,” says a journalist on the spot. “But some still go out and the stores remain open
The head of the executive wants indeed to spare the economy of the country, already hit hard by American sanctions since the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the Iranian nuclear agreement in May 2018. Anxious to avoid a collapse of activity, Hassan Rohani also announced an extension of the deadlines for companies to pay their taxes, loans or invoices.
Effect of sanctions
For Tehran, the difficulties encountered by Iran in managing the coronavirus crisis lie primarily with the United States. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Called For End To US Sanctions In Iran Letter To Iran epidemic ”. On March 11, following a mission to Iran, the World Health Organization confirmed that Iran was in dire need of medical equipment. If the medical sector is not directly targeted by Washington’s punitive measures, it is in reality impacted by the refusal of international banks to ensure transactions, even legal ones, with Iran, which causes shortages of medication.
“The sanctions create a lot of difficulties for us,” admits Reza, the doctor at Bandar Abbas. “The lack of medical equipment added to the lack of economic capacity and the lack of management by the authorities promises us very difficult next days. According to Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran urgently needs 3.2 million Covid-19 test kits, 160 million masks and a thousand fans. He therefore announced Thursday that he had requested, for the first time in 60 years, the assistance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to benefit from its “rapid financing instrument” promised to countries affected by the epidemic. According to the governor of the Iranian central bank, Tehran has claimed aid of around $ 5 billion.
However, the Washington-based IMF board rarely acts against the will of the United States. And engaged in a political showdown with Iran, Washington, after having first offered its humanitarian aid to Tehran, then accused the Islamic Republic of “lying to its own people about the coronavirus”.