Rouhani: Iran’s economy handled pandemic better than US

Iran’s president said his country’s economy is in a comparatively better shape than the US and European states' ones when it comes to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

al-monitor Iranian women wearing protective masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic shop in the capital, Tehran, Aug. 4, 2020.  Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images.

أغس 4, 2020

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is praising his government’s economic performance in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to rage across Iran with alarming mortality rates.

“Iran’s economy has proven more resilient,” Rouhani said Aug. 4, drawing a comparison with European countries and the United States, where he said gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen by 10% and 30% respectively. The Iranian president, however, did not offer similar statistics on his government’s economic record. However, in June, Economy Minister Farhad Dezhpasand said the coronavirus had cost Iran 15% of GDP.

At a meeting of the government’s economic coordination board in Tehran, Rouhani accused Iran’s enemies of projecting a “blackened image” of his government’s response to the pandemic by spreading “rumors and false statistics” with the aim of producing “public disillusionment.” He described this as “psychological warfare” advanced by an enemy that has already faced failure in its “economic war, a term the Iranian leadership uses in reference to the US “maximum pressure” policy and sanctions regime against Tehran. Rouhani also unleashed a ferocious attack against critics, who continue to question his government’s performance during the pandemic, linking them to the same campaign orchestrated by the “enemy.”

Since the onset of the pandemic in Iran in late February, the Rouhani administration has been accused of understating how many people have been infected and killed by the coronavirus. The official daily mortality number has been hovering above 200, staying on an alarming streak of record highs that began early in July. Local officials, health experts and medical workers, however, have long placed the real death toll well above the official rates.

Indeed, Payam Tabarsi — the chief infectious disease specialist at Masih Daneshvari Hospital, the largest COVID-19 center in Tehran — recently challenged the official figures and sounded the alarm on fresh spikes rolling across the megacity of some 9 million people.

Worn-out medical workers battling the virus on the front lines are also worried that the ongoing transmission pace could soon bring them to their knees. As many as 138 members of Iran’s medical community had succumbed to the coronavirus as of July 25.

The Rouhani team is rejecting calls to cancel a series of nationwide university entrance tests, which are estimated to bring together over 1 million high school graduates in examination rooms that experts fear could serve as potential COVID-19 clusters. Government officials, nevertheless, plan to press ahead, albeit with “strict social distancing protocols in place.”

The Iranian president and Health Ministry officials have on various occasions blamed new jumps on public disregard for health precautions, specifically pointing fingers at young partygoers and wedding attendees. In counterargument, critics trace the roots of new outbreaks to the state’s fast-paced and disorderly economic reopening.

Mohammad-Reza Mahboubfar, a member of a national committee tasked with outlining coronavirus prevention policies, has particularly questioned what he called the government’s “confused” management, which he said gives the economy precedence over public health by refusing to impose effective lookdowns on hot spots. In an interview with the pro-Reform daily Aftab-e-Yazd, Mahboubfar warned that unless the government seriously reconsiders its current approach, Iran will have to brace for a looming “catastrophe” around September, when daily coronavirus mortality “could jump by six times and hit the 1,600 mark.”

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