A second wave of Covid-19 has been sweeping Iran since mid-May. Our Observers say that even though hospitals are already overwhelmed with cases, Iranians are not adhering to basic preventative measures. They blame the government for reopening the country too quickly after the first wave and not responding fast enough to the latest crisis.
Iran was one of the first countries hit by the Covid-19 pandemic after China, but authorities didn’t admit that the virus was circulating there until February 21. This spring, our team worked with our Observers on the ground to document this first wave. We wrote about shortages of personal protective equipment, criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis as well as a booming business in fake “Islamic remedies” for the virus.
In the first part of this article, which you can find here, our Observers described how hospitals were already overwhelmed by the second wave of the virus.
Iran ended lockdown on April 29, lifting restrictions and allowing people to return to public spaces and travel to tourist spots in the north of the country. At the time, a number of experts warned that these decisions and a lack of clear directives from the government could potentially lead to severe second wave. Our Observers on the ground say that, one month later, these predictions have become reality.
"The government eased restrictions and a lot of people completely forgot how serious the situation is"Our Observer Ali (not his real name) runs a public health organization in a town in southern Iran. He says that the government’s decision to encourage Iranians to return to work and to act as if the situation was normal had an impact on people’s behavior and made the situation much worse:
During the first wave, we were short on everything. We didn’t have enough masks, even for the medical teams. We didn’t have enough disinfectant. But, at the same time, people were aware that there was a real danger and they tried to follow the health recommendations. But when the government eased restrictions so that people could get back to work, I think a lot of people completely forgot how serious the situation is. The parks filled up. Most of the time, people aren’t wearing masks even though, three months ago, there were enough masks for everyone. People aren’t respecting social distancing measures. Overall, people are acting as if everything is normal and that makes it possible for the virus to spread quickly and easily.
Abbas Sabouri-- the spokesperson for the City Council in Ahram, a town located near Busheher in southern Iran-- was in tears in this video : " The situation is horrible. There are no more beds in the hospitals. Young people are dying. We are begging people to stay at home, to wear masks, to avoid crowds and to refrain from praying together but no one cares."
Despite the national government’s refusal to impose a new, strict lockdown, the pandemic has become so severe in certain regions that local governments are setting up their own lockdowns
The towns of Mashhad, located in the northeast, and Shiraz, located in the centre, as well as some towns in the southern province of Khuzestan announced new restriction measures on July 1 and 2. Cinemas, libraries, schools, universities and mosques were closed for a week, a period that may be extended.
In some of these towns, they asked people to wear masks but, for the time being, there is no indication that they are fining people who don’t wear them. The situation in Tehran is growing more worrying as well. On July 8, Ali Eta, a spokesperson for the Tehran City Council, wrote on Twitter: " “The situation is horrible [... ] I’m calling for a strict lockdown and, at the very minimum, that government employees should work from home."
"Without clear guidelines and requirements, people do what they want"
Maryam (not her real name) is a manager at a company based in one of the cities that has been hit hard by the second wave of Covid-19.
People are talking about a second wave but, in my region, it is basically just the continuation of the first wave. We never really saw the number of cases drop off significantly. We didn’t have a total lockdown like some places in Europe and, now, the number of new infections and deaths are the worst we’ve ever seen.
The only thing that the government did during the first wave was to close non-essential businesses and limit working hours. But, in fact, none of those measures were actually enforced. Even shops selling cement remained open! The government just imposed travel restrictions and recommended certain hygiene measures for government employees.
Several employees from a petrol refinery near the town of Behbahan in Khuzestan, who wear distinctive blue uniforms, came down with Covid-19. They went to Khomeini Hospital in Behbahan for tests and treatment.
However, none of these were requirements. That meant that some banks, for example, banned people from entering without masks. Other banks have no such restriction and then customers end up standing really close to one another. Without clear guidelines and requirements, people end up doing what they want.
Worst of all, for the past two months, the authorities have banned reports that break down the number of Covid cases city by city. So we don’t even know how things are going in the neighboring town or region.
According to official statistics, just over 12,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Iran. However, many independent experts say the numbers are being underreported, a claim supported by international estimates which put the infection rate and death toll much higher.