By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN (AA) – Iran has announced a complete lockdown to stem the spread of coronavirus or COVID-19, after weeks of indecision due to the country’s two power centers holding divergent views on the issue of quarantining the whole population in the country.
With deaths and new infections being reported every day, the civilian government led by President Hassan Rouhani finally banned inter-city travel and announced a strict lockdown. He also set a target of two weeks for his government to break the chain of transmission that has brought life to a standstill in most of the countries in the world.
The strict measures were announced following reports that defying advisories, tens of thousands of people had traveled to other cities to celebrate the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) on March 21. Medical experts believed the violation of advisories and traveling around in the middle of the pandemic was one of the primary causes of the surge in newly infected cases.
A week before the Nowruz, Iran’s Army Chief Mohammad Bagheri on the instructions of country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has asked people to vacate shops, streets and other cities within 24-hours.
The move was, however, opposed by the civilian administration headed by President Rouhani, which ruled out the possibility of a complete lockdown, while urging people to voluntarily stay at home.
Tehran’s Mayor Pirouz Hanachi also rejected the idea of quarantining the capital city, saying the government cannot provide financial assistance to people or compensate businesses due to economic sanctions enforced by the U.S.
“It was not a wise decision to not impose the lockdown when the fatalities were still fewer than 800,” said Reza Khormizi, analyst and university lecturer.
President also now believes that the two-week target to break the chain of the virus was possible only if a strict lockdown is enforced.
“You cannot just appeal to people to stay home, you have to swing into action and force them to stay home like they are doing in other lesser-affected countries,” Khormizi told Anadolu Agency.
On Thursday, Iran reported 157 deaths, the highest single-day toll so far and 2389 new infections.
- A slew of new strict measures
Addressing a meeting of the government-appointed anti-coronavirus task force on Thursday, Rouhani announced a slew of new measures to fight the pandemic in Iran, hoping to break the chain of transmission within two weeks.
He said Iran was now in a better position to combat the global pandemic. The country has added some 20,000 beds in hospitals across the country, with 4,000 beds set up by the armed forces to deal with an emergency.
The new measures including strict enforcement of social distancing began from Thursday. The government also announced special financial assistance for businesses which havesuffered losses due to the pandemic.
Traffic authorities in Iran are observing strict restrictions on inter-city travel form Wednesday. They said that no vehicles would be allowed to enter the capital city of Tehran except in the cases of emergency.
“Fresh travels including leaving cities and towns will be banned,” said Iran governmentspokesman Ali Rabie.
- Upward curve
“People should return to their hometowns as soon as possible,” said the government spokesman, adding that those violating the advisories would be penalized and the measures would be strictly enforced.
“It is very clear, the best way to defeat this disease is to stay at home,” said Dr. Ramazan Sadeghi, a Tehran based medical practitioner. “Unless we don’t own responsibility, we cannot complain about the misery resulting from this pandemic, “he added.
Iran's Health Ministry said that a total of 47.5 million people has been screened for the disease since February 19, when the first two cases were reported in Iran.
On last Saturday, Iran had witnessed a significant drop reporting 966 infections and 123 deaths. But the next day recorded 1028 new cases and 129 deaths. The cases piled up on Monday, leaving experts and officials searching for answers. Over the past four days, the cases have seen an upward curve with new infections and deaths being reported continuously.
According to the U.S. based John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre 32,332 cases of coronavirus have been detected in Iran so far, resulting in 2378 deaths. As many as 11,133 people have recovered as well. The country has 18,821 active COVID-19 cases.
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COVID-19: Divergent views at top delay lockdown in Iran
By Syed Zafar Mehdi