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Iran's Capital Remains Epicenter Of COVID-19 Outbreak As Businesses Re-open

A biker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus drives past a group of people selling hand sanitizer at a low price in Tajrish square in northern Tehran, April 16, 2020
A biker wearing a face mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus drives past a group of people selling hand sanitizer at a low price in Tajrish square in northern Tehran, April 16, 2020

Alireza Zali, the official in charge of the task force to fight coronavirus in Tehran says one third of COVID-19 fatalities and infections in Iran is taking place in the capital.

Meanwhile, speaking on the first day of re-opening most small businesses in Iran, Zali attributed many infection cases to the use of pubic transport.

Deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi had said last week that 26.5 percent of infections by COVID-19 in Iran takes place while people are on board public transport, particularly on the subway and buses in Tehran.

Speaking on Friday, deputy Tehran Mayor for public transport Yousef Hojjat said social distancing will be practically impossible once the number of passengers on the Tehran subway exceeds 450,000 per day. The current number is around 350,000. But this will most likely increase as businesses continue to re-open.

In another development the traffic police in the Iranian capital announced on Saturday April 18 that the volume of traffic has risen by 70 percent in comparison to the same day last year. This is a clear sign that reopening small businesses will add to transportation risk related to spreading the coronavirus.

According to Zali, patients released from hospitals after recovery will be in serious risk as busy traffic makes social distancing impossible and pollutes the air. Zali said that 522 patients were discharged from hospitals in Tehran Friday evening and are told to stay home for two weeks to avoid spreading the infection.

While the re-opening of low-risk businesses has caused a lot of concern among health officials, President Hassan Rouhani has called for more measures to combat COVID-19.

Meanwhile, a report published by Sazandegi newspaper, the mouthpiece of the centrist Executives of Construction Party in Tehran on April 16, says that the Tehran’s municipality will sustain 120 trillion rials of losses as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak until September. That is equal to $750 million at the free market exchange rate.

According to this report the biggest losses have been incurred in the construction sector and public transport and the Municipality has lost revenues in both areas.

The huge loss for Tehran’s government excludes losses to the city's economy as a result of the partial lockdown. No one has yet come up with an overall estimate of economic damage, other than concerns over at least another two million people losing their jobs in an already battered economy.

The income of Tehran's subway system has been dramatically affected as a result of the outbreak, with an 80 percent decline in ridership since the start of the outbreak and has slightly recovered since last week when the first phase of re-opening small businesses started.

Public bus service has also lost a large part of its income as most people have been staying home for nearly two months now.

Another lost source of income for Tehran Municipality is the money it charged vehicles for driving into the restricted area in downtown Tehran where most businesses are located.

Last week, with the partial re-opening of businesses, the government advised citizens in Tehran to use their own cars rather than using public transport. However, to encourage the people to use their own cars, the government dropped the city center travel tax, depriving the Municipality of its income.

Traffic restriction manager Ammar Saeedianfar told Sazandegi that the Municipality earned 3 to 3.5 trillion rials out of this kind of taxation during 200 working days. The loss has amounted to some 210 billion rials only during the past two months, he said.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest losses by Tehran Municipality since the start of the outbreak is the decline in taxes on construction activities as construction work came to a standstill in February and the shut-down has continued since then.

However, in order to encourage construction activity in Tehran, the Municipality has dropped all the taxes until June.

Tehran city Councillor Mohammad Javad Haqshenas has said that the Tehran Municipality will be in deficit for one third of its annual budget if the crisis continues until September. Haqshenas called on the Rouhani government and various financial institutions outside the administration, possibly in an allusion to organizations operating under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's aegis, to help the Municipality in order to avoid social crises in the capital.