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Escalation Of Coronavirus Crisis In Tehran, As Officials Withhold Death Toll

Commuters wearing masks against coronavirus on Tehran underground (metro) on April 7, 2020.
Commuters wearing masks against coronavirus on Tehran underground (metro) on April 7, 2020.

The Chief of Tehran Coronavirus Combat Task Force on Thursday once again warned about the escalation of the coronavirus epidemic in the Iranian capital after the government reduced lockdown measures taken earlier and the return of residents to the city after new year holidays.

In the past few days Tehran, a city of 8.6 million, appears to be showing a different trend to the rest of the country where officials say the spread of the virus is now more under control. The province of Tehran is also the most populated in the country with a population of 13.7 million.

The capital's Coronavirus Chief on Thursday said the number of cases in Tehran have gone up for the fourth day in a row but did not disclose any numbers, which have so far been kept secret from the public, presumably on national security grounds.

Dr. Alireza Zali on Wednesday said the city of Tehran is now "one of the biggest hotspots of coronavirus in the country" and that the situation is much graver in Tehran Province than in the rest of the country.

The highest number of coronavirus deaths in Iran in one day, 157, was registered on April 5 while the highest number of new cases, 3,111, was reported on March 31. Both figures have been going down in recent days at the national level. On Tuesday Dr. Richard Brennan, WHO's Regional Emergency Director, said WHO has seen a flattening off of the number of coronavirus cases in Iran in recent days.

According to the latest official announcement, the number of new cases on Wednesday and Thursday were 1,997 and 1,634 respectively while the death toll for the country stood at 121 and 117 for the same days. Based on the official figures which many believe are considerably lower than real numbers, total coronavirus cases and the death toll in Iran have now reached 66,220 and 4,110 respectively.

Mr. Zali's main concern appears to be the capacity of Intensive Care Unit s in the capital. Public hospitals run by the Medical Sciences University of Tehran have 2,000 ICU beds, most of which are now occupied, Dr. Zali said on Wednesday.

Many attribute the escalating situation in Tehran to the return of those who traveled to other provinces during the Iranian new year holidays. "As we had predicted the number of hospitalizations has increased as a result of the return of residents after the holidays," Dr. Alireza Zali said on Thursday. He also warned about the reintroduction of the usual traffic restrictions in the capital after the holidays and said restrictions in using private cars will force more people to use public transport and put them in greater danger of contracting the virus, with people allowed to resume business and government activities.

The increase in people's movements in the city which experienced more than two weeks of quiet until April 4 has manifested itself in a spike in the number of people showing up in hospitals with coronavirus symptoms, the Zali said and warned that it will take about two weeks until the new cases reach the stage of requiring intensive medical care.

Also warning about the very high coronavirus infection rate in comparison with influenza Dr. Minoo Mohraz, a member of the National Coronavirus Task Force, on Wednesday said the group had asked the government to keep its offices and businesses closed until April 20.

The administration of President Hassan Rouhani, however, decided to open government offices and businesses.

On Wednesday Rouhani said people, particularly day laborers, must be able to work and earn money to survive and economic activities had to be resumed in order to be able to fight coronavirus and save lives. The government has allocated some subsistence aid to more vulnerable families, but the allocated financial aid is too low to help them survive without work income.

According to a telephone poll in Tehran with a sample population of 1,023 conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), reported on Wednesday, 75% of the respondents in the capital say social distancing measures should remain in place.

A 70% majority said they were already experiencing difficulties in supporting their families or could only manage for a maximum of two months without work due to the lockdown. Nearly half of the respondents to the same poll also said they didn't trust the official statistics on coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the epidemic is draining the coffers of Tehran Municipality, making its services harder to maintain. Mahmoud Mir-Lohi, a member of the City Council of Tehran on Thursday said the city's revenues from construction permit fees and other sources has gone down by two-thirds in comparison with the same period last year.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.