SEATTLE, Washington — Iran quickly became the region’s epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 12, there were 29,217 active cases of COVID-19 in Iran. Currently, more than 8,500 Iranian people have lost their lives due to the growing pandemic. Other nations and officials criticize Iran’s response to the outbreak. Reports suggest the government downplayed the outbreak for weeks, leaving Iranian citizens panicked. This puts the citizens of Iran at a very high risk as their death toll continues to climb.
Early Outbreak of COVID-19 in Iran
Iran became the hot spot for the virus early into the pandemic with almost 1,000 deaths by March 17. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is possible Iran’s COVID-19 toll could rise by five times. WHO began working on opening more testing facilities. Only 22 reported testing facilities existed in Iran upon WHO’s arrival, and the organization brought that total to around 40 laboratories.
In February, the Iranian government attempted to halt the spread of COVID-19 in Iran by banning all flights from China. However, just days later a private airline owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards continued to fly routes to and from China. The virus spread quickly; high-ranking government officials and various military and cabinet members, among others, became infected. In early March, Iran asked for emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is the first time in 60 years Iran requested collateral from the IMF.
Iran’s Call to Lift Sanctions
Iran cites the reason behind its slow and inadequate response to the virus was due to their economic concerns as a country. Hadi Kahalzadeh, a former economist for Iran’s Social Security Organization, commented that “Iran’s health sector, especially hospitals and pharmacies, don’t have enough liquidity to purchase essential supplies. And the Iranian government doesn’t have the financial means to fill the gap.”
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, specifically called out the sanctions put on them from the U.S. President Donald Trump put these sanctions in place when he withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal. These sanctions prevent Iran from selling oil in international markets, which deeply affects their economy.
Sanctions Hinder Medical Industry
The sanctions are also interfering with the medical industry as many medical supplies are not exempt from sanctions or require a special license to disinfect before purchase. This puts the lives of medical professionals on the line and prevents Iran from controlling the outbreak adequately. Iran urged to lift the sanctions along with requesting a five billion dollar loan from the IMF. Many U.S. government officials encouraged President Trump to consider temporarily lifting the sanctions to help Iran recover. Currently, there are no plans to lift the sanctions on Iran yet.
On April 3, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, introduced a list of solutions to aid Iran during this troubling time. These solutions included publicly promoting ways that other governments and institutions can support fighting the virus in Iran, addressing banks’ hesitance to support Iran and setting up humanitarian channels to support the Iranian people. However, Iran has not accepted any aid from the United States.
Iran Begins Reopening
As its death toll continues to rise, Iran has hopes to restart its economy. As of April 20, Iran began reopening the country. Highways reopened as well as some businesses, including high-end shopping malls and the Grand Bazaar. According to reports, businesses such as restaurants, gyms and places of worship should stay closed. The closing of mosques and shrines became a major issue for Iranians, as Ramadan has begun. Rouhani hopes to have some sites open as of May 4. However, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Khamenei, suggested that all mass gatherings through Ramadan halt to stop a resurgence of COVID-19 in Iran.
Iranian citizens started volunteering to sanitize the streets and public places. Citizens believe they must do what they can to help their country. While professional help stretches thin, volunteers are willing to fill the gaps. The government acknowledged the volunteers and recognizes their value in helping the country.
Looking to the Future
While reopening the country should be exciting news, many experts remain concerned about the resurgence of COVID-19 in Iran. The head of Tehran’s coronavirus combat force says that reopening parts of the country sends the wrong message to the public. However, Iranian officials are hoping the current downturn in infection and death rates will continue.
Saeed Namaki, Iran’s health minister, stated, “Thanks to divine blessing as well as the efforts of our colleagues … we were able to reduce the number of new patients by 53% and the death toll by 30% daily” when reviewing the numbers from the 18 days before April 23. Namaki is working with WHO to press countries to lift the sanctions and restrictions for a faster recovery. Iran, like the rest of the world, has a long way to go before the country recovers. With the help of volunteers and officials, Iran is now making strides to return life to normal.
– Lilith Turman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons