Tehran, Iran (AP) – As Iran faces what looks like its worst coronavirus pandemic wave to date, commuters in Tehran continue to pour into its metro and buses every working day, even so that pictures of panting patients are shown repeatedly on state television every day. night.
After coming under fire for downplaying the virus last year, Iranian officials have reinstated partial lockdowns and other measures to try to slow the spread of the virus.
But in the country of 84 million people, which faces crushing US sanctions, many are struggling to earn enough to feed their families. Economic pressure, coupled with growing uncertainty about when vaccines will be widely available in the Islamic Republic, has caused many people to simply ditch social distancing, seeing it as an unaffordable luxury. This has raised concerns among public health officials that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
“I can’t stop working,” said Mostafa Shahni, a worried 34-year-old construction worker in Tehran. “If I do, I cannot bring home bread for my wife and two children.”
Iran is now reporting its highest number of coronavirus cases on record – more than 25,000 per day. His daily death toll has climbed to around 400, still below the grim record of 486 he reached in November.
At the height of the latest outbreak in Iran, around 20,000 coronavirus patients were hospitalized across the country. Today, this figure has exceeded 40,000. The Ministry of Health warns that this number will rise to 60,000 in the coming weeks. Iran remains among the hardest-hit countries in the world and the hardest-hit in the Middle East.
All over Tehran, Associated Press reporters have seen signs of the pandemic’s toll.
At Tehran’s Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital, medics pushed the bodies of two coronavirus victims through a parking lot to his morgue, one wrapped in white, the other in a black body bag. All of its services on five floors of the hospital are reserved for coronavirus patients. An empty stretcher contained a bouquet of roses left for a recently deceased man. A heart-shaped balloon hovered over a stationary respirator.
In the huge Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, already reeling from the pandemic, workers laid rows of cinder blocks for new graves. Mourners in black cried at a stream of funerals. Officials plan to open a new mortuary at the site to deal with the wave of death, which was heavily triggered by what the Iranians simply call “corona.”
Saeed Khal, the director of Tehran’s main cemetery, said workers buried 350 bodies there as of Tuesday alone – at least 150 had died from the coronavirus. The cemetery had never handled so many burials in a single day, not even during Iran’s war with Iraq in the 1980s which claimed 1 million lives.
It was “one of the most difficult and saddest days for my colleagues in the cemetery’s half-century history,” Khal said on state television.
The influx is so large that some burials are delayed by a day, which is unusual for Iran following the Islamic practice of immediately burying the dead.
Outside the gates of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini hospital complex, where the capital’s poor can receive free care in its 1,300 beds, scores have piled up on a recent day as guards refused routine cases and allowed only in coronavirus cases confirmed by test.
“They say the wards are full of corona patients,” said Manijeh Taheri, who requested regular thyroid treatment for his mother in the hospital. “I don’t know where to take her when such a huge complex doesn’t have room for my mother.
Field hospitals are being prepared in Tehran and other major cities. State television showed footage in hospitals outside the capital with patients being treated in the hallways.
“We will not be leaving the red zone anytime soon,” Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi told state media.
President Hassan Rouhani attributes the current outbreak to the rapidly spreading variant of the virus first found in Britain, which the government says arrived from neighboring Iraq. Travel between countries has been restricted since March, although people and commerce continue to cross paths every day. Overall, Iran has recorded 2.2 million reported cases and 67,000 total deaths.
Lawmaker Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi has blamed government mismanagement and continued US sanctions for the spread of the virus.
“Sanctions, challenges and bad decisions will continue. We don’t have enough vaccines, so protect yourself and your loved ones with personal health measures, ”he wrote on Twitter.
To date, Iran has administered more than 500,000 doses of the vaccine, according to the WHO. Supplies remain limited, however. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned American and British-made coronavirus vaccines, saying their import was “banned” because he did not trust those countries. Khamenei has approved the import of vaccines from “safe” countries, such as China and Russia, and supported national efforts to produce a local vaccine with help from Cuba.
But officials keep changing when they say the general public will be vaccinated, as it remains unclear when Tehran will receive the promised 60 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Amir Afkhami, associate professor at George Washington University, said that over the past year Iranian leaders may point to superpowers like the United States that are struggling to contain the virus. With vaccines rolled out in the West and economies reopening, this could become much more difficult to do, he said.
“Ultimately, Iran is not self-sufficient when it comes to developing the COVID-19 vaccine, and it doesn’t have the (intensive care unit) beds to absorb the patients it needs, so he really needs outside help, ”Afkhami said.
Iranian authorities have closed mosques, restaurants and parks during Ramadan, the holy month of Islamic fasting observed by Muslims around the world. An evening curfew for private cars is in place and travel between cities is prohibited. Parliament was suspended for two weeks.
But the wider fatigue of the virus has seen people ignore the warnings and harbor fasting meals called iftars inside. Already, authorities have blamed celebrations around the Iranian New Year known as Nowruz in March for contributing to this wave.
Masoud Mardani, an infectious disease specialist in Iran’s national COVID-19 task force, has demanded a public curfew. But none so far have come.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press reporter Ebrahim Noroozi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.