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World Wary of angering public, Iran has few ways to contain virus

10:00  26 october  2020
10:00  26 october  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Panic has gripped parts of Iran over coronavirus, with people stocking up on masks and anti-bacterial spray. Health officials are conducting temperature checks at public spaces including shopping malls in Iran 's isolation leaves them with few options. Another problem has been the reluctance of Iran 's

Iranian authorities have been overwhelmed by the rapid spread of the virus across the country. Despite assurances from health officials, the situation has deteriorated drastically in recent days. The number of deaths and new infections is constantly being revised upward.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran this month, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures.

FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2020, file photo, people wear protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the Tajrish traditional bazaar in northern Tehran, Iran. As a new wave of coronavirus infections engulfed Iran this month, filling hospitals and driving up the death toll, the country's health minister gave a rare speech criticizing the government's powerlessness to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2020, file photo, people wear protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the Tajrish traditional bazaar in northern Tehran, Iran. As a new wave of coronavirus infections engulfed Iran this month, filling hospitals and driving up the death toll, the country's health minister gave a rare speech criticizing the government's powerlessness to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

“We asked for fines to be collected from anyone who doesn’t wear a mask,” Saeed Namaki said last week, referring to the government’s new mandate for Tehran, the capital. “But go and find out how many people were fined. We said close roads, and yet how many did they close?”

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image captionCases of coronavirus have risen sharply in South Korea, where the outbreak is worsening. The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern at the number of coronavirus cases with no clear link to China or other confirmed cases.

An outbreak in Iran has seen the country's coronavirus numbers spike; it now has more Apart from just face masks, they have turned to other ways to protect themselves from the virus in public Mask shortages mean fewer available for health workers. Health care workers who treat novel coronavirus

Namaki’s speech, lamenting the country’s “great suffering” and “hospitals full of patients,” clearly laid the blame for the virus’ resurgence at the government’s door — a stark contrast to the usual speeches from officials who point the finger at the public’s defiance of restrictions.

But one day later, the minister had a vastly different message.

“We should not cause panic for people in vain,” Namaki said in a speech carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency. “We should never announce that we don’t have empty (hospital) beds. We do have empty beds.”

FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2020, file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19, attends a meeting with National Corona Headquarters, in Tehran, Iran. As a new wave of coronavirus infections engulfed Iran this month, filling hospitals and driving up the death toll, the country's health minister gave a rare speech criticizing the government's powerlessness to enforce basic health measures. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2020, file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19, attends a meeting with National Corona Headquarters, in Tehran, Iran. As a new wave of coronavirus infections engulfed Iran this month, filling hospitals and driving up the death toll, the country's health minister gave a rare speech criticizing the government's powerlessness to enforce basic health measures. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)

The rhetorical about-face is typical of Iranian leaders’ inconsistent response to the pandemic that many see as helping to fuel the virus’ spread. Experts say the mixed messages reflect the fact that the leadership has little room to impose severe restrictions that would damage an already fragile economy — and thus stoke public anger.

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Other manufacturers are still wary of the virus , however. Nissan factories in China's Hubei province will not restart production "We will certainly find ways and means. We will find a way to get you back," he said. Iran International has reported that so far eight coronavirus patients have died in Qom city’s

A respiratory virus that originated in China has infected more than 900,000 people worldwide, with at least 200,000 cases in the United States. An intensive care unit treating coronavirus patients in a hospital in Wuhan, China, the virus ’s epicenter.

“The country is already under such pressure, and Iranians are already policed,” said Sanam Vakil, a researcher on Iran at Chatham House, a London-based policy institute. “If they can’t provide economic resources to help people, to then be overly authoritarian and enforce health measures would undermine their legitimacy even further.”

More than 32,000 people reportedly have died in what is the Middle East’s worst outbreak — and a top health official stressed recently that the true number is likely 2½ times higher.

And it shows no signs of abating. In the last week, Iran shattered its single-day death toll record twice and reported daily infection highs three times.

In a sign that tensions over the government’s haphazard response are coming to a head, even the country’s supreme leader took aim at authorities on Saturday. He demanded for the first time they prioritize public health over “the security and economic aspects” of the pandemic, without elaborating.

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Countries are adopting different ways to contain the spread of coronavirus but there is no Exports of face masks are banned for three months, while Iran ’s factories produce new supplies for local The government has banned the export of medical equipment, as Spahn said the virus there had not yet

Officials have banned all public events, including sporting activities and religious ceremonies. Other Lombardy towns not affected by the lockdown have The outbreak has killed at least eight people in Iran , state television said — the largest number of reported coronavirus-linked deaths outside China.

FILE - In this July 4, 2020, file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, left, talks with his Minister of Health and Medical Education Saeed Namaki during a meeting in Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this July 4, 2020, file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, left, talks with his Minister of Health and Medical Education Saeed Namaki during a meeting in Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)

“When the Health Ministry determines restrictions, all agencies must observe and enforce them without taking into account other considerations,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared.

For months, even as officials have issued increasingly grim warnings, the government has resisted a nationwide lockdown that would undermine an economy reeling from severe U.S. sanctions, re-imposed in 2018 after the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Despite appeals from the United Nations and rights groups that sanctions be eased during the pandemic, America slapped new ones on Iranian banks this month.

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People in Japan have also started to express worry that the government is not doing enough to contain the crisis. One reported worry among experts and the public is that Canadian authorities have not managed to capture important health data and that testing efforts for COVID-19 are falling short.

The majority of global public health experts believe that countries need to act quickly and decisively to reduce what Robbert Muggah, a leading Brazil-based risk and security specialist, said "represents the most significant threat to population health and political and economic stability in a generation."

The rial plunged to new lows against the dollar, erasing people’s life savings. Millions of workers in informal sectors face the choice between staying home to avoid the virus or feeding their families.

And Iranian authorities have given them no clear guidance. When the virus first struck in February, international experts accused Iran of covering up the crisis. The government, desperately seeking to defuse public anger and boost its legitimacy after its crackdown on nationwide economic protests and the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane over Tehran, urged people to turn out for a parliamentary vote and to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, photo provided by the Iranian Health Ministry, medics tend to a COVID-19 patient at the Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital in Tehran, Iran. Iran is confronting a new surge of infections that is filling hospitals and cemeteries alike. (Akbar Badrkhani/Iranian Health Ministry via AP) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, photo provided by the Iranian Health Ministry, medics tend to a COVID-19 patient at the Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital in Tehran, Iran. Iran is confronting a new surge of infections that is filling hospitals and cemeteries alike. (Akbar Badrkhani/Iranian Health Ministry via AP)

Only in late March — with infections skyrocketing — did Iran impose a two-week shutdown of offices and nonessential businesses. Yet even then, during Nowruz, the Persian New Year and the country’s biggest holiday, Iranians defied travel bans to visit family or head to the coast. A widely watched video on Instagram at the time showed angry drivers attacking and yelling insults at police officers who tried to close the roads in northern Iran. In response, the police retreated and let them go.

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FILE - In this April 30, 2020, file photo, a woman wearing mask and gloves, prays at the grave of her mother who died from the coronavirus, at a cemetery in the outskirts of the city of Babol, in northern Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this April 30, 2020, file photo, a woman wearing mask and gloves, prays at the grave of her mother who died from the coronavirus, at a cemetery in the outskirts of the city of Babol, in northern Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

When the country reopened in April, infections surged again. As the nation's death toll soared this month, authorities scrambled to impose a raft of public health measures: shutdowns of recently reopened universities and schools in Tehran, travel bans to and from five major cities, a compulsory mask rule in the capital, home to 10 million people. The deputy health minister last week promised that police would finally “start dealing more seriously with fines” for those who disobey the rules.

FILE - In this April 30, 2020, file photo, relatives of a victim who died from the coronavirus, mourn at the gate of a cemetery, in the outskirts of the city of Babol, in north of Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this April 30, 2020, file photo, relatives of a victim who died from the coronavirus, mourn at the gate of a cemetery, in the outskirts of the city of Babol, in north of Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

But the risk is that if impoverished citizens are fined for failing to wear masks, or middle-class Tehranis are barred from escaping to vacation spots on the northern Caspian coast, public outrage over Iran’s other grievances, including economic distress and international isolation, could boil over.

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Angry street demonstrations already have challenged the government this year. Hard-line lawmakers have demanded that President Hassan Rouhani resign, with one of them, Mojtaba Zolnouri, who heads parliament’s influential committee for national security and foreign policy, even publicly calling for his “hanging a thousand times until people’s hearts are satisfied.”

FILE - In this June 16, 2020, file photo, nurses tend to COVID-19 patients at the Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital in Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this June 16, 2020, file photo, nurses tend to COVID-19 patients at the Shohadaye Tajrish Hospital in Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Rouhani is facing pressure from all sides. While medical officials on state TV clamor for a prolonged and centralized shutdown, powerful clerics have called for mass gatherings to mark Shiite holidays, such as Ashoura, saying those who get sick pay the price to keep the holiday “alive.”

FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2020, file photo, a woman wearing a protective face mask to help prevent spread of the coronavirus has her temperature checked as she enters a shopping center, in Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2020, file photo, a woman wearing a protective face mask to help prevent spread of the coronavirus has her temperature checked as she enters a shopping center, in Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

“Rouhani’s hands are tied domestically,” said Vakil, adding that Iran’s leadership, aware that escaping U.S. sanctions is the only way to rescue its economy, is closely watching the U.S. presidential election next month.

In the meantime, authorities are at a loss for how to respond to the pandemic, according to the country’s own health minister.

“I saw on the street three or four days ago that 40% of passengers on a bus didn’t wear masks,” said Namaki in his first speech last week. “People gather and make lines for free food and no one comes to disperse them. ... How can infections be controlled in this way?”

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2020, file photo, people wear protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in downtown Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2020, file photo, people wear protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in downtown Tehran, Iran. As coronavirus infections reached new heights in Iran, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country’s health minister gave a rare speech criticizing his own government’s refusal to enforce basic health measures. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

Twenty-four hours later, he was on state TV insisting that things were, in fact, under control.

___

Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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