25 of Iran’s 31 provinces on coronavirus watch list

Iran’s daily coronavirus deaths remain at peak levels despite calls by officials for social distancing and other health protocols.

al-monitor Iranians, wearing protective face masks, exit a metro station in the capital, Tehran, on July 22, 2020, during the COVID-19 epidemic. The Islamic Republic has been battling a resurgence of the virus, with official figures showing a rise in both new infections and deaths since a two-month low in May. Photo by Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images.

Jul 23, 2020

Despite national lockdowns and a concerted effort to bring coronavirus infections down in the country, Iran is currently experiencing a peak in daily deaths with an average 200 coronavirus-related deaths a day.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said July 23 that there had been 221 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths in the previous 24 hours, pushing Iran’s total death toll from the virus over 15,000. Lari said that in the previous 24 hours there had been 2,621 new cases in the country, with 2,004 of those hospitalized. The high rate of hospitalization could suggest a number of factors, such as that those with less severe symptoms are opting not to be tested at a public clinic and self-isolating and thus not being counted in the official numbers of total cases.

After Iran shut the nation down in late March and early April, the country’s daily coronavirus deaths dropped below three digits in mid-April. However, given the economic pressures facing the country, the country gradually opened back up and has been experiencing 200 daily deaths on average for the past 10 days. 

Due to the high number of cases, Iran has labeled 12 of its 31 provinces as red "high risk" zones, meaning the provinces must take more restrictive measures and follow strict social distancing guidelines. The red-zone provinces of Mazandaran, Fars, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Alborz, Khuzestan, Lorestan, Gholestan, Kerman, Zanjan and Elam. There are 13 provinces classified as orange "alarm" zones, including Tehran, Esfahan, Bushehr, Hormozghan and Ghazvin.  

Critics of such labels say such designations are mere recommendations and that residents and provinces are not taking the classifications seriously. Iranian media outlets say large events such as weddings are still taking place and resulting in mass infections. Since reopening, Iran has also reopened mosques; President Hassan Rouhani has said that Muharram (Islamic New Year) commemorations will take place following health protocols in late August and early September. 

The Health Ministry said Tehran and Khorasan Razavi province saw hospitalizations double in the previous 24 hours. Profiles of nurses and hospital workers who have died from the coronavirus appear in Iranian media periodically as a reminder of the sacrifices they have made. According to the Medical Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as of June 22 120 medical workers have died due to COVID-19 and over 4,000 have been infected. However, the council says this number is “likely not complete,” suggesting the number is much higher. 

It appears that with a virus that shows no signs of slowing down in Iran, the country is perhaps pinning its hopes on a vaccine. Mohammad Mokhber, the head of the Executive Headquarters of the Imam’s Directive, said Iran has successfully tested a vaccine on animals. The group is technically a charitable organization but is one of the wealthiest institutions in Iran and operates under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with much of its wealth from confiscations of property. Mokhber said the organization is waiting for approval from the Health Ministry to move to the next step of the testing process. 

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