Iran has seen a rapid surge in the numbers of coronavirus cases recently, with daily recorded deaths reaching new highs.
Iran started to relax its restrictions in mid-April, after the number of infections declined, so what’s happened since then?
How fast are deaths rising in Iran?
Iran’s daily reported death toll has been rising sharply in recent weeks.
In mid-June, deaths went above 100 – for the first time in two months.
Iran daily Covid-19 deaths
And since then, this figure has been going up, reaching 221 dead by 9 July.
New reported infections averaged more than 3,000 a day in the first week of June – a 50% increase on the previous seven days.
This figure reached a high of 3,574 on 4 June, before dropping slightly. There have been more than 2,000 cases a day since then.
The previous highest figure was 3,186 on 30 March – during the initial outbreak, when Iran became one of the worst affected countries outside China.
So Iran has seen both an upsurge in infections and a marked increase in daily deaths since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus subsided.
Why are Iran’s numbers rising?
In April, Iran began to ease its restrictions as daily infections fell:
- 20 April: Shopping malls and bazaars reopened and travel resumed between different provinces
- 22 April: Public parks and recreation areas reopened
- 12 May: Government allowed all mosques to reopen
- 25 May: Major Shia religious shrines reopened
- 26 May: Restaurants, cafes, museums and historical sites reopened
City transport systems across Iran, as well as banks and offices, have been packed with people.
The epidemic was initially concentrated in Qom and the capital, Tehran. But now, a flare-up has been reported in the south-west, notably in Khuzestan province, an oil-rich region that borders Iraq.
Officials have suggested the renewed surge in new cases could be down to more testing, and President Hassan Rouhani has said this means you will find more cases.
When more tests are done, then naturally more cases are identified
Iran’s chief epidemiologist at the country’s health ministry, Mohammad-Mehdi Gouya, explained: “The main reason for the rising numbers is that we have started identifying [infected people] who have no or mild symptoms.”
Iran has been increasing its testing, reaching about one in every 45 people by 7 July, considerably more than it did at the start of the pandemic.
But that’s still less than the US or countries in Europe that have been hit by the virus.
The proportion of tests in Iran that return a positive result began to rise in late May and early June, reaching 14%. But since then it’s stayed between nine and 10%.
That’s about ten tests for each positive case.
Iran’s positive test rate
The WHO has suggested 10 to 30 tests per positive case as a general benchmark for adequate testing, according to Our World in Data, which compiles coronavirus testing statistics.
That means that at the moment, Iran may not be doing quite enough testing to find all cases.
What about social distancing?
Health Minister Saeed Namaki said people were ignoring social distancing rules.
“People have become completely careless regarding this disease,” he told the Iranian news agency.
And a health ministry poll in early June suggested only:
- 40% of the population were keeping the social-distancing rules, down from 90% earlier in the outbreak
- 32% were following the rules on self-isolation, down from 86%
What options do the authorities have?
During the initial outbreak, the Iranian authorities were criticised for their hesitation in closing down mosques and key religious sites, and for not moving quicker to introduce restrictions.
The leadership in Iran cannot afford to continue restrictions because of the state of the economy, according to BBC Persian’s Rana Rahimpour.
She adds that it faces multiple challenges such as US sanctions, corruption and mismanagement.
However, President Rouhani has now told Iranians they must wear face masks on public transport and in crowded areas, and said where necessary, the police and security forces will enforce the rules.
And Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has criticised officials who don’t wear masks in public or at meetings.
He has said it sets a bad example to the public.
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