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As Unemployment Soars In Iran No One Talks About One Billion Euros Taken From Reserves

An Iranian woman wearing face mask sits in a bus in Tehran, February 26, 2020

The Iranian administration's spokesperson, Ali Rabiei, says the coronavirus outbreak has adversely affected the employment situation of 7.3 million Iranians.

In a commentary he wrote for the semi-official news agency ISNA on Saturday April 11, Rabiei said that the outbreak has affected 3.3 million full-time employees and 4 million self-employed workers in Iran.

The estimate is less than what President Hassan Rouhani was quoted as having said last week about some 30 million Iranians sustaining losses as a consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran. Rouhani's press adviser later denied the report. However, denials in the Iranian media landscape do not necessarily mean that the original statement is untrue.

Rabiei said over 7 million Iranians either lost their jobs or their employment has been temporarily suspended or downgraded. Although he did not say how many people exactly have lost their jobs.

In early April, the head of the Iranian Red Crescent Society said it was planning to help two million people who have lost their job to COVID-19.

On April 7, the Majles Research Center had warned the Rouhani administration about possible "protests" and "riots" that might break out as a result of the economic impact of the outbreak.

Rabiei wrote that the suspension of production at 1.5 million businesses will have long-lasting consequences for Iran's economy. However, he did not say what happened to the one billion euros Khamenei authorized Rouhani to withdraw from the National Development Fund to help officials cope with the consequences of the outbreak.

Others, including Rouhani himself have not said a word about how they will spend the hard currency. Buying medical equipment and supplies from other countries is not a short-term solution, and in fact may not be possible in the short-run as all other countries have the same problems and requirements.

Officials in Iran have not even said whether they are going to use the windfall extra budget to help businesses and producers or workers that have lost their jobs.

The lack of transparency becomes even more serious considering the fact that it is not even quite clear whether the Rouhani administration has received any cash or credit from the fund that is controlled by Khamenei.

In his commentary Rabiei referred to a recent poll in which some 35 percent of those who took part said they are already unable to make ends meet and that they are losing their ability to survive in the face of increasing economic hardships.

However, while everyone, in the administration seem to be concerned about losses caused by the impact of COVID-19, it appears that not everyone has been losing money as a result of the outbreak. The Health Ministry appears to be one of the winners.

The Ministry's spokesman Kianush Jahanpur revealed in his video conference with reporters on Friday that the Health Ministry has issued bonds known as Corona-1 and Corona-2 and that some 150 billion rials's worth of the bonds were have already purchased at the Tehran Stock Exchange. In dollar terms this is not a considerable sum. Based on the realistic free market exchange rate it amounts to just one million dollars.

Jahanpur said that a board of trustees appointed by the Ministry of Health supervises these resources. "They are trusted and honest people," he said, adding. "The trustees will manage this sum as a stock basket or investment at the stock exchange and use the profits for the fight against COVID-19 and to provide protective and diagnosis equipment."

In the meantime, in his news conference on Saturday, Jahanpur said that the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Iran has surpassed 70,000, and with 125 new deaths during the past day, the official death toll has soared to 4,357. Most independent estimates hold the official numbers to be too low.

Amid rising concerns about lifting some of the restrictions and the resumption of activities at "low-risk" businesses, deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi has said that Tehran, where a large part of the country's population lives, could be Iran's Achilles Heel as people using extremely busy public transport may spread the virus to other parts of the country.

Harirchi said that 26.5 percent of the transmission of the virus has been attributed to people's presence on board busy trains and buses in Tehran's public transport network.