COVID-19 in Iran: Coronavirus outbreak, measures and impact

Praveen Duddu 31 March 2020 (Last Updated September 7th, 2020 13:53)

The Islamic Republic of Iran was the first Middle East country to report a death due to coronavirus.

COVID-19 in Iran: Coronavirus outbreak, measures and impact

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The Islamic Republic of Iran was the first Middle East country to report a death due to coronavirus.

Like many other countries, Iran didn’t predict early a big domestic coronavirus outbreak and has also been criticised for not being transparent in updating the local situation to the rest of the world.

It still remains unclear when the first coronavirus case in Iran was detected. The Iranian government continued to deny the occurrence of novel coronavirus epidemic until it became clear to the world that the local situation in Iran worsened with more than 30 Members of the Parliament (MPs) and government officials contracted the contagious disease.

Even as the country struggles to control the surging infections, it has resumed flights to Europe after two days of cancelling them. Coronavirus is currently across Europe, with five EU nations among the most affected countries with coronavirus in the world led by Italy, meaning both Iran and EU nations are at an increased risk of coronavirus transmission.

Novel coronavirus (nCoV): Iran COVID-19 deaths and cases

Iran’s novel coronavirus (nCoV) cases crossed 41,000 on 31 March, while death toll crossed 2,700.

First deaths in the country were officially announced on 20 February in Qom. The higher mortality rate in Iran suggests the coronavirus-infected in the country could be much higher than the reported numbers.

Rumours and misinformation that bootleg alcohol would prevent coronavirus have, however, resulted in at least 44 more deaths, as quoted by Islamic Republic News Agency.

Coronavirus in Iran: Testing and treatment

Iran couldn’t immediately start rapid testing for coronavirus following the suspected cases in the country, due to sanctions by the US disallowing access to test kits and drug imports.

China, however, came to Iran’s rescue and has sent coronavirus test kits and traditional medicines to treat coronavirus patients. Clothes and face masks are also being shipped by China in support of Iran’s efforts to contain the outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) too has started sending coronavirus test kits to Iran. Across Iran, 40 laboratories have been facilitated to perform coronavirus testing.

Iran has also formed a collaboration with Russia to jointly fight the coronavirus outbreak. The two countries will exchange experiences and consulting on the disease.

Iran’s Covid-19 (coronavirus) measures

With the number of Iran COVID 19 cases and death toll increasing, the government has strengthened its coronavirus measures to limit further transmission and control the situation.

Tourist spots attracting huge crowds, such as museums, palaces and historical places, are announced to be operated for lesser hours.

The Iranian government has advised its citizens to minimise the use of currency notes during the coronavirus outbreak. Checkpoints have been implemented in major cities to avoid local transmissions of the disease.

The government plans to tap into the country’s sovereign wealth fund to provide $1bn in support for the healthcare system. It has also requested for $5bn in emergency aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The country has also tightened social distancing rules in the country after people started travelling during the Nowruz festival. The new rules require people to stay at home, and avoid gatherings and non-essential travel. All offices, schools, universities, non-essential stores and businesses have been ordered to close until 03 April.

Emergency funds to be released

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has approved the release of $5bn worth emergency funding, which will used to provide cheap loans to businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The loans will be offered at a heap rate of 12% and will have a repayment period of two years.

The government has also deferred loan payments till May for three million lower income families, who will also receive payments of up to six million rials ($400) in four stages.

Diagnostic task force for rapid and efficient coronavirus testing

The Iranian government has set up a coronavirus diagnostic task force, which is managed by the Pasteur Institute of Iran based in Tehran.

The institute is also managing the coronavirus testing laboratories across the country ensuring timely detection before the disease spreads and is ensuring that swabs are available to ship samples.

Lockdown of Iranian provinces to limit COVID-19 spread

Iran announced a 15-day shut down of all non-essential businesses and services in a number of provinces on 19 March, in order to curb the spread of coronavirus. The move, although considered late by observers, came after a number of requests were made to the president.

Film and television shootings cancelled

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Iran, has called for the cancellation of film and television (TV) show shootings across the country since they are potential transmission clusters due to the large number of staff involved.

Further, art and culture programmes across the country have been closed for an indefinite time since 01 March and licensing for cinematographic and non-cinematographic works has been suspended.

Prisoners released temporarily

The Iranian government released more than 120,000 prisoners following cases in prisons such as the one in Evin, Tehran. The first batch of prisoners was released in early March after ensuring that they have not contracted the nCoV. The release was applicable to prisoners sentenced for less than five years and those not sentenced for violence.

Coronavirus impact on Iran

The coronavirus outbreak amid US sanctions is likely to affect Iran’s economy. The US imposed fresh sanctions on the country by blacklisting five Iran-based companies as well as individuals for supporting terrorist groups. This is the third round of sanctions imposed by the US, despite requests from the Iranian government to lift the sanctions.

The US government issued certain waivers on sanctions imposed on Iran on 30 March enabling Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work at nuclear facilities in Iran.

The US has offered help to fight the coronavirus pandemic despite imposing sanctions. The Iranian government, however, has rejected the offer noting that it not trust the US.

Hydrocarbons (oil and gas) are a crucial sector for Iran. Fall in demand for oil due to reduced travel during the coronavirus outbreak and other oil-producing nations competing to sell their reserves has already resulted in a significant fall in global crude oil prices.

Saudi Arabia’s oil price cut resulted in a 30% decline in oil prices in early March. Iran has the second biggest natural gas reserves in the world and the fourth biggest oil reserves and is predicted to lose a significant chunk of its state revenues if the oil price wars and the fall in price continue.