On December 31, 2019, the world faced a threat that it was gravely unprepared for: COVID-19. Since its discovery, the virus has spread across the 7 continents and caused an alarming death toll that is still rising by the day.
One of the countries hit the hardest by the outbreak is Iran. While it implemented efforts to contain the virus, doing so caused further damage to the financial state of the nation. As a result, the Iranian government is considering lightening the travel restrictions and reopening non-essential businesses to salvage the economy.
Meanwhile, healthcare workers in both Iran and the Iranian community in the USA are urging the government to think otherwise. They argue that lifting the lockdown would do more harm than good for the country. So, will reopening the economy worsen the COVID-19 crisis?
The Spread of COVID-19
Health experts likened the newly discovered disease to SARS and MERS because of its highly contagious and life-threatening nature to humans. Once infected, a person would exhibit pneumonia-like symptoms, such as coughing, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
However, the early epidemic was taken lightly by government officials across the globe when it was first discovered. One reason would be that the symptoms would appear 2 to 14 days after contact, making the virus virtually impossible to detect in its early stages. Also, reported deaths were mostly from seniors and patients who had existing respiratory conditions, creating the assumption that healthy individuals would be safe from the disease. Unaware carriers continued working and traveling, unknowingly spreading the virus to other countries.
Soon, clusters of people with pneumonia-like symptoms were found in different parts of the globe, and reports of deaths came after. It was on January 30, 2020, roughly a month after the discovery of the disease, that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. While lockdown measures were implemented in multiple countries, confirmed cases continued to rise at an alarming rate.
Iran’s First Cases and the Government’s Divergence
The first confirmed case in Iran was on February 19, 2020. 2 people tested positive for COVID-19, one of which was a merchant who traveled frequently. Later that day, both were reported dead by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education (MOHME). While Iran implemented medical efforts to control the situation, they continued their daily activities and even completed the parliamentary election on February 21, 2020.
The confirmed cases grew exponentially. By the end of the month, 43 casualties were reported, and 593 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals.
Despite the rapid increase of infections and virologists’ warnings, Iranian authorities were hesitant to implement travel restrictions. They feared it would further damage the economy, which has been out of control even before the outbreak, and hinder the expected financial boom from the upcoming Persian New Year.
On March 5, 2020, Iran was forced to close down public gathering centers such as schools, bazaars, and shrines as recorded cases multiplied to 3,500 infections and 108 deaths. However, city-wide quarantine and travel bans weren’t implemented.
The Middle Eastern Epicenter of COVID-19
On March 11, WHO categorized COVID-19 as a pandemic, a statement that isn’t declared lightly. The global health organization warned countries to immediately take measures and be prepared for the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
During that time, the virus had already infected more than 11,000 people and claimed the lives of over 500 Iranian citizens. At that point, Iran had the greatest number of cases outside of China, and nearby countries banned entry from the new epicenter of the virus.
While Iran planned to take the virus by the horns, they lacked the financial capacity to do so. The demand for oil, which was one of the country’s main sources of revenue, drastically dropped due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic. Taxes also plummeted as local businesses continued to be shut down.
As a result, the government had little money to spare for national health. Healthcare centers and frontline workers were overwhelmed by the influx of infected patients and needed beds, ventilation, and protective gear.
The Iranian Americans believe the much-needed humanitarian aid should only be provided directly to the people of Iran and not the regime and its Islamic Republic Guard Corps (IRGC), and Tehran must accept such humanitarian aid.
Both the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and President Hassan Rouhani should be held accountable for expelling Doctors Without Borders team from Iran and refusing U.S. offers of humanitarian assistance, the regime is blaming the pandemic on the U.S. sanctions to cover up its denial, mismanagement, and subsequent embezzlement of COVID-19 aid sent by the international community
The Iranian regime is campaigning, not to help the people of Iran, but to exploit the loss of thousands of Iranian lives due to COVID-19 for its sinister agenda, to get the sanctions lifted by the United States and the International community.
With how Iran handled COVID-19, Persian economists warned of massive consequences that could lead to unrest if business resumed. As for whether or not the administration’s decision will pay off, the republic will soon find out as they officially announced the end of lockdown on May 5, 2020. Visit the Organization of Iranian American Communities to follow what will happen to Iran’s economy and the Persian-American culture during the pandemic.