Heavy traffic in Tehran on the first working day of the new Iranian year has prompted some officials to warn about a second wave of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infections hitting the capital.
With the New Year holidays over, many residents of the capital have now returned from other cities. If economic activities resume at this point those who have been infected elsewhere could spread the virus with more force across the country's economic heart, officials say.
A deputy of Tehran's governor told the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) that the heavy traffic on the streets could be an indication the private sector has not taken the government decision to reduce or halt business activities seriously enough. "Traffic was even heavier than normal days across the city. We may experience a second wave of coronavirus infections if the city space becomes crowded again," Shokrollah Hassanbeigi said.
Iran is not implementing strict lockdown of cities. Pointing out that Tehran Province is at the crossroads of other provinces Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi on Saturday said infections in Tehran can spread to other cities, particularly those near the capital. Many of the people employed in Tehran live in other towns and cities nearby or travel to other parts of the country for work.
According to Dr. Alireza Zali, Head of the Coronavirus Taskforce of Tehran, the number of hospitalizations in Tehran has increased in the past few days. "Tehran is still not at a desirable level of Covid-19 control," he said on Saturday and added that many of the city's intensive care and regular hospital beds are still occupied by Covid-19 patients.
Iranian authorities have so far not announced the number of Covid-12 deaths in the capital Tehran and the Province of Tehran, presumably due to national security concerns. According to Radio Farda's sources in Iran's Health Ministry so far at least 16,100 were infected in Tehran as of April 3.
Iran's official coronavirus death toll has now reached 3.452 with 158 more deaths in 24 hours. During the same 24-hour period 2,560 new cases were identified pushing the total to 55,743.
The data published by the Health Ministry is based solely on multiple positive test result for each person and is not representative of the real situation which may be much more grave. According to data gathered by Radio Farda from local and national media as of April 3 at least 78,000 patients have been hospitalized across the country with symptoms of Covid-19 and more than 5,900 have died of complications associated with those symptoms.
President Rouhani himself has been making very optimistic remarks about the control of the crisis in the past few days and even claimed that the number of infections in all provinces of the country was going down. On April 3, however, Dr. Zali cautioned the government not to make decisions that could affect the implementation of social distancing measure and movement restrictions introduced last week.
The government movement restrictions including closure of schools, businesses and events are to continue until April 8 but no decision has yet been announced about such restrictions beyond that. From contradictory remarks made by various government officials it appears that there is no consensus among the ministers in charge of the economy and health on how to manage the crisis in the coming days.
While the Health Ministry is advocating the continuation of the closures, a deputy of the Ministry of Industries, Mines and Commerce on April 3 issued an order for resumption of production and other economic activities. In protest, the Minister of Health Dr. Saeed Namaki wrote a letter to Rouhani on Friday and strongly criticized such decisions the consequences of which he said would "affect the health system and as a result of that, the economy".
On April 4 in a new report the Research Center of the Iranian Parliament warned about a possible crisis in procurement of essential goods, further reduction of foreign currency reserves, increased unemployment, and inflation as well as pressures on retirement funds.
The report also said the coronavirus crisis could cause lower economic growth and higher inflation and warned that the disruption in people's livelihood could bring about [an economic/political] crisis.
Economists have expressed concern too. On Friday in an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani, fifty economists warned about unrest in low-income areas clustered around major cities later this year. Iran has repeatedly been rocked by widespread protests since its economy began to falter in 2017.