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As Coronavirus Crisis Persists, Iran Tones Down Anti-Israeli Qods Day Events

An Iranian man holds an effigy of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the annual anti-Israeli Qods or Jerusalem Day rally in Tehran, June 8, 2018. FILE PHOTO

Three weeks after easing lockdown regulations and introducing “smart social distancing” in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran is in a state of red alert due to more coronavirus cases.

Announcing this on Saturday May 16, Rouhani blamed "lack of coordination" as the culprit for the surge in the COVID-19 outbreak and called for more accord between health institutions.

Explaining the "lack of coordination," Rouhani said: "One says blood [plasma] is the criteria for diagnosis of the disease, the other one says it is CT Scan, and still another one names diagnostic tests while yet another one calls for serology tests."

Nevertheless, Rouhani once again talked about "foreign media's conspiracy" and charged that "they wanted to shut down the country and disrupt its security, but we resisted against them." Mindless of the global nature of the pandemic, he had said in April that the Ministry of Intelligence has "detailed documents" about a "counter-revolutionary conspiracy."

By referring to foreign media, Islamic Republic officials are pointing out foreign-based Persian broadcasters, such as the BBC, Radio Farda or Iran International TV.

Rouhani has been insisting on the reopening of businesses and "normalization" of the situation since April while some health officials and media criticized him for the risks involved.

Nonetheless, on Saturday Rouhani called on the Ministry of Health to issue "very strict and clear guidelines" about the reopening.

Currently even schools have been reopened in Iran, and all teachers report to work, but the students' parents are free decide whether to send their children to school. The universities are to reopen later in June. Reports on social media indicate most children stay home.

Iranians, some wearing face masks against the coronavirus, attend prayers during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, outside a mosque in the Tehran, May 13, 2020
Iranians, some wearing face masks against the coronavirus, attend prayers during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, outside a mosque in the Tehran, May 13, 2020

Meanwhile, the outbreak has also affected political developments, as Rouhani's guideline about the Qods Day rallies reveal. He said on Saturday that Qods Day can take place in over 200 Iranian cities where the situation of the outbreak has been declared as "white" (all clear). However, in the capital Tehran, there will be no usual marches. Instead, people may take part in motorized rallies in their cars.

The anti-Israeli Qods Day marked on the last Friday of Ramadan has always been significant for the Islamic Republic since it was first introduced by Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini in the 1980s and the regime in Tehran has been using it as an indication of its popularity and legitimacy.

During the past week there have been several reports which said there was a renewed surge in the outbreak in some Iranian provinces including Khuzestan, Lorestan, Sistan-Baluchestan and East Azarbaijan.

According to statements by the government, the end of Ramadan Eid al-Fitr and the Qods day will not be celebrated in Khuzestan due to the state of alert for the pandemic. However, Rouhani said: "We cannot ignore the Qods Day in the capital. So, the people will drive rather than march on that day." In Tehran, the IRGC is in charge of the celebration.

Nonetheless, even in the "white" cities, the Qods day rallioes will be held only at the venues of Friday prayers.

Speaking on the controversial issue of reopening religious shrines and sites, Rouhani said that for the time being only the courtyard of holy shrines will be open to pilgrims three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon.

This comes while soccer matches will resume without spectators. Social media users have been teasing Rouhani saying it is as if the virus differentiates between religious and athletic places and treats those present differently.

In another controversial remark, Rouhani said that "Even if there is another surge in the COVID-19 outbreak in the summer, we must have left the peak of the outbreak behind by then," adding, "Part of the population has developed some kind of resistance to the virus while our medical staff are better skilled now."

Meanwhile, in his latest news conference on Saturday, Health Ministry Spokesman said that 1,757 new COVID-19 cases have been registered in Iran during the past day but the number of deaths has fallen under 40.

He said so far 118,392 Iranians have contracted COVID-19 and 6,937 have died as a result of the outbreak.

Iran’s official pandemic numbers are viewed with scepticism even among state institutions. A parliamentary study early on said infections may be ten times higher than official figures.