For at least two weeks, ‘red’ regions will experience a partial shutdown that includes shutting down all non-essential businesses, but allowing up to a third of government employees to work in offices.
It also allows private companies linked to essential services to continue operating in the dozens of regions identified with the highest alarm level, including at least 25 of Iran’s 32 provincial capitals.
More companies and civil servants can continue to operate in regions with less stringent classifications.
A local curfew from 9:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. has also been put in place across the country, which prohibits intra-urban travel. Police in the areas with the highest risk levels have been authorized to fine violators of 10 million rials ($ 40) every 24 hours.
In addition, vehicles with non-local license plates have been prohibited from entering areas classified as “red” or “orange”. Residents of these regions cannot enter the others either.
A mandatory mask rule will continue to be implemented across the country.
The new restrictions came after a major spike in the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths as Iran battles a third wave of the Middle’s largest and deadliest coronavirus pandemic -East.
As announced by the Health Ministry on Saturday, 431 additional deaths have been recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 44,327. 12,931 other infections have also been recorded, with a total of 841,308 cases.
Iran’s worst single-day death toll of 482 was recorded on November 16, while the highest single-day infection figure of 13,421 was recorded three days earlier.
Daily infection rates have more than tripled since the start of October.
‘A difficult winter ahead’
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari called the daily toll “very worrying” and pointed to more difficult times ahead.
“If the current trend continues, we will have a much more difficult winter than fall,” she said.
“We hope that through an increase in the number of people who refrain from risky behavior, better management and better cooperation between different entities, we can see the outbreaks in the country stop.”
Iranian officials say family reunions are the cause of more than half of all COVID-19 transmissions.
President Hassan Rouhani last week said in a televised speech that all measures approved by the National Coronavirus Task Force must be treated as laws and must be implemented.
However, enforcement of the restrictions has been patchy at best and it appears that in many cases the public has been entrusted with compliance.
Earlier this month, when a 6 p.m. local curfew for non-essential businesses was put in place in Tehran, reports from public broadcasters showed that many stores in major business centers were still standing. open.
“Who will pay my checks if I close my store,” asked a store owner of Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, who accompanied reporters to urge business leaders to follow public health protocols.
Even before the pandemic, Iran struggled with high inflation and unemployment due to a mixture of local mismanagement and severe economic sanctions in the United States.
The United States blacklisted the entire Iranian financial sector after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in May 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers. The United States has failed to heed multilateral calls to ease the pressure of sanctions on Iran throughout the deadly pandemic.
But Iran’s response to the pandemic has also been hampered by internal feuds.
The Ministry of Health, for example, lamented a lack of funding because the injection of one billion euros ($ 1.2 billion) allocated by the Iranian National Development Fund has been slow.
A day before the new restrictions came into effect, Deputy Health Minister Reza Malekzadeh resigned his post and lambasted Health Minister Saeed Namaki on social media.
He criticized the minister for the poor handling of the pandemic and said Namaki had caused “significant loss of life” by ignoring health experts. He also criticized the minister for his “unscientific and rushed” excitement of an Iranian COVID-19 vaccine which is simply “in the early stages of development.”
‘Aggressive locking is needed’
Saturday’s restrictions signal yet another government refusal to impose a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown – a short but complete shutdown of all but essential activities and limiting contact with immediate household members in a bid to significantly reduce transmission virus.
Local officials and experts in Tehran have called for a total shutdown of at least two weeks of the capital for weeks, warning of dire consequences, but the request was never granted.
Mohammad Akbarpour, associate professor of economics at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said the only way to control the virus is to make sure the reproduction number or “R” is less than one – which means on average each COVID-19 patient transmits the infection to less than one other individual.
According to research conducted by Akbarpour in collaboration with several Iranian American scientists at other major American universities, the only period in which the Iranian R was significantly less than one was the period of full lockdown in March and April.
“Wearing masks and social distancing in restaurants and so on can reduce breeding numbers to numbers close to one,” Akbarpour told Al Jazeera.
“But what Iran needs at this point is a substantial reduction in the number of people infected and this can only be achieved through an aggressive and short lockdown in which only essential workers are active and people are not. interact with anyone except members of their household.
The researcher said reducing current levels of around 450 deaths per day to 150 would require at least four weeks of lockdown, but even a two-week lockdown could save tens of thousands of lives until a vaccine is released. available.
He said there were no “big” options for Iran, but different options would cost the country differently.
“The choice of the decision maker is clear: a few weeks of foreclosure, which inevitably has an economic cost, then return to levels where R is again around 1, and save nearly 100,000 lives,” he said. .
“It seems obvious, even from an economic standpoint, that a lockdown is optimal.”
Akbarpour said that during this period, the government should naturally offer financial support to those who rely heavily on monthly income.
Last week, the Iranian president announced new government support for low-income households, but the amounts indicate the level of financial hardship the government is facing.
According to Rouhani, about a third of Iran’s population of around 85 million will receive one million rials ($ 4) per month for the remaining four months until the end of the current Iranian calendar year at the end of March. .
This equates to less than 5 percent of the monthly minimum wage.
The president said that an interest-free loan of 10 million rials ($ 40) will also be made available to 10 million households.