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Pandemic Situation Is Alarming In Iran's Oil-Producing Region

Covid-19 patient in a hospital in Khuzestan province. May 19, 2020
Covid-19 patient in a hospital in Khuzestan province. May 19, 2020

Reports from the province of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran say the situation with COVID-19 epidemic is "serious", particularly as people appear to ignore public health warnings and medical staff are affected by fatigue after weeks of hard work.

A local official warned that a renewed lockdown needs to be imposed in this province regardless of the heavy burden this may have on the economy. Khuzestan is Iran’s oil producing center and it is crucial for the country to keep production going in this region.

Speaking to the semi-official news agency ISNA Reza Nejati a local official of the COVID-19 task force in the province said as the end of Ramadan holiday is nearing, restrictions may be imposed on traffic in some provincial cities.

The news of worsening situation in Khuzestan comes while a health Ministry official in Tehran said on Wednesday May 20 that another 2,346 people have contracted the coronavirus and 64 have died in the course of the past 24 hours.

In all, 126,949 people have contracted the virus in Iran so far and the total deaths according to highly contended official figures is 7,183. The Iranian parliament’s research center, lawmakers and Tehran city council members have challenged these numbers and say deaths are much higher.

According to ISNA, Alireza Afshar, the health ministry's representative in Khuzestan has said on a TV program that medical staff in the province are affected by fatigue.

"They have been working round the clock for three months now. Some of them have not had a chance to see their loved ones for several weeks," Afshar said.

He added that local medical teams' situation is worrying as they have to work for long hours covered in protective outfits in the province's hot weather while they cannot have enough liquid to keep them going.

Meanwhile, the official news agency IRNA reported that the daily number of infections in the province is "alarming" but locals have still not taken the epidemic seriously.

Local officials have been calling on the people to observe social distancing particularly during the end of Ramadan festive season and perform their Eid prayers only in open areas outside the mosques.

Local officials have also called for shorter shift for medical staff in order to give an opportunity to take longer breaks.

The government’s official news agency IRNA has described the situation in Khuzestan "generally alarming," adding that during the past 10 days, one fourth of all the infections in the country has been registered in that province.

According to an IRNA report, "COVID-19 patients are strolling in the streets," characterizing them as "The same people who are constantly window shopping in the bazaars, walking the streets and frequenting beauty parlors," adding that "They make life harder for the medical staff."

IRNA quoted sociologist Amir Hossein Zandi as having said that people's reactions to COVID-19 in Khuzestan varies "from panic to undecidedness and indifference". He blamed ethnic and tribal relations, that encourage close contacts among members of each clan, for the continuity of the infection cycle in this region.

The number of people infected in the province is so high that local officials have threatened they will take the patients to court if they do not observe public health rules.

He said the largest number of infections has been reported in Dezful where people mingle without wearing face masks and gloves.

Due to concern over people's safety, the provincial soccer league has been suspended. One soccer team manager says "We cannot have matches while the province is in a state of red alert. It would be like committing suicide."