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As Social Distancing Rules Diminish In Iran, Signs Of A Covid-19 Rebound

Streets are buzzing In Tehran as social distancing rules are watered down. April 21, 2020
Streets are buzzing In Tehran as social distancing rules are watered down. April 21, 2020

Amid concerns about a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran as a result of an early end to social distancing, officials are considering the re-opening of cinemas and religious centers.

Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani is under political pressure by influential supporters and opponents of an early end to social distancing.

Local officials in the three provinces of Khuzestan, Fars and Zanjan have already broken the news about a rise in the number of COVID-19 patients in those regions and have characterized the situation as "alarming."

Gholamreza Shariati, the governor general of Khuzestan says the outbreak has gone wild in the provincial capital Ahvaz. Shariati attributed the rise in the number of patients to "people's carelessness" during the past 10 days.

Iranian officials have been systematically blaming the people rather than the government’s decision to relax social distancing arrangements during the past two weeks. The Iranian Parliament has tabled a motion that calls for fining and jailing those who make others ill because of their "carelessness."

Nevertheless, Shariati said "the situation is under control," but refused to give away any figures on the epidemic in Ahvaz or the Khuzestan as a whole.

Ali Akbari, a member of the Iranian Parliament (Majles) from Shiraz, Fars Province has also said the outbreak is ascending during the past 10 days. He attributed the rise in the number of COVID-19 patients in his province to the lifting of the ban on road traffic. Akbari said there is a lot of concern about the start of the second wave of COVID-19 outbreak.

In Zanjan province, Mohammad Reza Saini, the deputy dean of the local medical school told official news agency IRNA that the number of COVID-19 patients has been gradually rising. Like the officials in other provinces, he also attributed the rise to the lifting of social distancing regulations.

Without giving any figures, Saini said that "the situation in the province will be even more worrying and unpleasant if the rise in fatality continues for another two weeks." He added, "further carelessness will trigger the second and a more serious wave of the coronavirus outbreak."

During a meeting with the Qom Seminary Dean Alireza E'rafi, who had earlier called for the reopening of seminaries and other religious centers, Saini called for a slow-down in lifting lockdown regulations.

The Rouhani administration and its COVID-19 task force has effectively put an end to social distancing from April 8 by introducing a plan it called "smart social distancing" which turned out to be nothing less than doing away with social distancing regulations. The government has also allowed the reopening of medium-risk businesses out of concern for the deteriorating economic situation.

In the next phase of the plan that started on April 18, the government lifted the ban on travelling between various cities and provinces and has promised to open shrines, seminaries and religious centers within two weeks, although anecdotal accounts indicate that the administration is under political pressure to open them even before mid-May.

Most government employees were told to resume their work from April 18 amid concerns by local officials in Tehran and other major cities over the adverse impact of an early end to social distancing.

In the meantime, the Rouhani administration has been under political pressure about its next step from different directions. Iranian Medical Council Chief Mohammad Reza Zafarqandi has called on Rouhani not to take hasty measures that would endanger people's lives and bring the health system to the verge of collapse.

On the other hand, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's family doctor and the head of the Iranian Medical Academy wrote a letter to Rouhani demanding the reopening of holy shrines and mosques "one of these days."

The man in charge of the fight against COVID-19 in Tehran, Alireza Zali told IRNA on Thursday that the people have got the wrong message that the outbreak has receded or is under control. He was referring to statements and decisions made by Rouhani without naming him.

Meanwhile, referring to the admission of 313 new coronavirus patients in Tehran and 86 in intensive care units on Thursday, he called for serious implementation of social distancing and travel bans. So far, more than 88,000 Iranians contracted the virus and nearly 5,600 of them have died based on official figures, while independent sources have questioned the validity of these figures and believe that actual numbers are much higher.The Iranian Parliaments Research Center says the actual death toll is twice as much the official figure and the real number of COVID-19 patients is up to 10 times higher.

Nevertheless, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianush Jahanpur claimed on Friday that no Iranian province is in a critical condition.