Despite an increasing number of deaths every day and the approach of Norouz, the Iranian New Year, the Tehran government has not yet decided to take measures as strict as in Italy, Spain or France to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Authorities announced on Thursday 149 additional deaths from Covid-19 disease, bringing the country’s official death toll to 1,284. The number of victims of the day constitutes a new daily record. Vice-Minister of Health Aliréza Raïssi rather insisted that the progression of new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours (1,046) had slowed down.
According to figures from his ministry, a total of 18,407 people have been infected with the disease since authorities announced his presence on Iranian soil on February 19.
“One dead every ten minutes”
“In eleven provinces” out of 31, “the number of cases of infection has decreased because people have followed our directives,” rejoiced Aliréza Raïssi, once again calling on the Iranians to stay at home. However, he did not specify the total number of people who actually underwent the Covid-19 diagnostic test.
Presenting the data differently, ministry spokesperson Kianouche Jahanpour, written on Twitter that at the current rate, “50 new cases of infections – (are) detected every hour” and that the disease causes “one death every ten minutes”.
“Make a conscious decision regarding travel, travel, family visits during Norouz.” The Iranian New Year begins Friday, the day marking the beginning of spring and the holiday, which will last until April 3, traditionally puts the whole country on the roads.
85,000 detainees on leave
According to the Iranian Judicial Authority, 85,000 detainees are granted leave for the two weeks of leave to relieve congestion in prisons and reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Tehran is also preparing to release “around 10,000 detainees” on the occasion of a New Year’s pardon.
This amnesty was granted by the Iranian supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, at the request of the head of the judiciary in order to “decrease the number of prisoners, taking into account the sensitive situation in the country,” said Gholamhossein. Esmaïli, spokesperson for the Judicial Authority.
Iran being one of the countries most affected by the pandemic, the Iranian authorities have been asking the population for several weeks to refrain from all travel and to take the virus “seriously”. Aliréza Raïssi complained on Wednesday that the bazaars are “full” in Tehran. But the regime has so far refused to impose containment or quarantine measures.
To deter people from moving, several provinces have ordered hotels to be closed and, rare, Iran announced on Monday the closure of four major Shiite holy places.
Those responsible for the Imam-Reza mausoleum in Machhad, the first Shiite holy city in Iran, in the north-east of the country, closed the pilgrims to the heart of the sanctuary, where an important gathering for Norouz is traditionally held. “The portals of the mausoleum and in general all the covered spaces of the sacred sanctuary are closed (including the tomb of Imam Réza, note),” said a spokesman for the holy place.
“It is playing with the life of the people”
It is insufficient, according to five former health ministers. In a letter to President Hassan Rohani, published on Thursday on the state television website, they called on the government to “strictly prevent unnecessary travel and travel between the provinces”.
According to them, not to decree such a prohibition, “it is to play with the life of the people”, to risk that the disease becomes out of control, with very many deaths. “We must break the chain of contacts between healthy people and the sick,” they add, taking up an argument which has justified confinement in many other countries.
Professor at the renowned Charif University of Tehran, Alinaqi Machayékhi tried to model what could be the evolution of the epidemic in Iran according to various scenarios. According to his calculations, the disease could kill 12,000 people out of a total of 120,000 infections if the population adopts “responsible behavior”.
In a worst-case scenario, with careless people, no coercive measures and saturated medical infrastructure, the Covid-19 could kill up to 3.5 million people in Iran out of 81 million inhabitants, he said. Alinaqi Machayékhi nevertheless specifies that the parameters used for her modeling must still be validated by doctors and social science experts.