Iranians fearful as virus infections rise anew

by Ahmad Parhizi

While many residents in Iran’s capital are taking advantage of loosened COVID-19 controls, some worry about a new spike in infections in what remains the Middle East’s deadliest virus epicentre.

“The line of fools,” muttered shopkeeper Manouchehr, peering disdainfully at a queue of customers outside a foreign currency dealer in the Sadeghieh district of western Tehran.

Many in the long line stood close to one another and did not wear masks.

A traffic policeman told AFP such queues have appeared regularly ever since the money changers re-opened. People rarely observe basic anti-contagion protocols, he complained.

The government began paring back coronavirus controls outside Tehran on April 11, arguing that the economy — already sagging under punitive US sanctions — needed to get back to bare bones operations.

It allowed small businesses to reopen in the capital a week later, before permitting malls to welcome customers on April 21 and barbers on Wednesday.

At 802, declared daily infections in Iran on May 2 reached their lowest level since early March.

But this critical daily number has since begun resurging, breaching 1,500 on Saturday to take the country’s total number of confirmed infections beyond 106,000.

‘Endangering our lives’

The capital’s streets, bazaars and malls are now bustling after being nearly deserted for weeks after the bulk of control measures were imposed in March.

Milad, a shopkeeper in a mall, was conflicted about the easing of movement restrictions.

“All these customers coming in will endanger our lives — us who are forced to come” to work, he said.

The mall gets very busy in the evenings, noted the 22-year-old, who did not have any protective equipment.

The COVID-19 respiratory disease has killed nearly 6,600 people in Iran since the first two fatalities were reported in the city of Qom on February 19, according to authorities.

Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi has called Tehran the country’s “Achilles heel” in the fight against the virus.

The city’s eight million residents are densely packed together and it is a magnet for hundreds of thousands of workers from other provinces.

The government moved to ease restrictions even as Tehran remained at red on its colour graded risk model — white denoting low risk, yellow medium and red high risk.

Schools, universities, cinemas and stadiums remain closed to contain the spread of the virus. (AFP)