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Iran mandates masks; public apathetic (www.arkansasonline.com)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the covid-19 illness it causes.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicized an image of himself in a mask in recent days, urging both public officials and the Islamic Republic’s 80 million people to wear them to stop the virus’s spread.

But public opinion polling and a walk through any of the streets of Tehran show the widespread apathy felt over a pandemic that in February saw Iran among the first countries struck after China. Whether rooted in fatigue, dismissal or fatalism, that indifference has scared Iranian public health officials into issuing increasingly dire warnings.

“Let me first thank our great people,” a health worker in a hazmat suit in a hospital corridor sarcastically bellows in one dark state TV spot. “You hand in hand with the coronavirus defeated us!”

Gallery: Iran makes face masks mandatory

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The new rules mark a turning point for Iran, which has struggled in trying to balance provincial lockdowns to stop the virus’s spread with the fears of stalling out an economy already struggling under U.S. sanctions after America’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Religious considerations also played a role in this Shiite theocracy as authorities declined for weeks to close shrines where the faithful touch or kiss the tombs’ protective bars.

For a moment, it appeared the restrictions and public fear had worked, as reported new cases and deaths from the virus dropped to their lowest levels in May. But new cases soon rose again, with officials initially saying better testing caused the numbers to spike even as they lifted restrictions to boost economic activity.

By mid-June, daily death tolls again routinely rose to triple digits. On Sunday, Iran saw its highest single-day reported death toll of the pandemic at 163.

Fears persist that Iran’s actual toll from the virus may be nearly double its reported figures, as a parliamentary report in April suggested. Masoud Mardani, a member of the country’s coronavirus task force, recently said that sampling from random antibody tests suggest that 18 million Iranians have been afflicted by the virus. Iran has reported only about 240,000 confirmed cases and 11,600 deaths.

“We see that some consider being infected with the virus bad and hide it,” a mask-wearing President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday, according to a transcript on the presidency’s website. “If someone knows that they have been infected with coronavirus, they have a religious and human duty to inform others about it.”

Until now, wearing a mask in Iran had been encouraged but remained a personal choice. The new mandate follows the changing views and mixed messages of the scientific community.

Iranians remain unenthusiastic about wearing masks, although it hasn’t become a political statement. Instead, it appears to be one of fatigue.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

At two busy gas stations, an Associated Press journalist counted only 15 of 95 drivers wearing masks, while two of the stations’ 11 employees wore them.

“It is useless to wear [a] mask,” said Mohammad Ghasemi, a 27-year-old employee of one of the stations. “I use the metro twice a day when it’s packed with people without [social] distancing.”

As he smoked a cigarette on a Tehran street, 23-year-old Hamid Sharifi said: “I think it’s not as dangerous as they said in the beginning.”

Samad Rostami, a 35-year-old shopkeeper, disagreed. “If we continue like this, our hospitals will be full and patients should lie on streets,” he said. “We are getting closer to the brink of catastrophe.”

​​​​​Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press.


People shop at the old grand bazaar of the city of Zanjan, as some of them wear protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk on a sidewalk in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo/ Vahid Salemi)
People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk on a sidewalk in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo/ Vahid Salemi)

A girl wearing a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus rides her bicycle in the courtyard of a mosque, in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo Vahid Salemi)
A girl wearing a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus rides her bicycle in the courtyard of a mosque, in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo Vahid Salemi)

A street vendor wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the old grand bazaar in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo Vahid Salemi)
A street vendor wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the old grand bazaar in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo Vahid Salemi)

A cleric wearing a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, leads the noon prayer at a mosque in the the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
A cleric wearing a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, leads the noon prayer at a mosque in the the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus sit at a bus stop in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo Vahid Salemi)
People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus sit at a bus stop in the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo Vahid Salemi)

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, left, talks with his Minister of Health and Medical Education Saeed Namaki during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, July 4, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, left, talks with his Minister of Health and Medical Education Saeed Namaki during a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, July 4, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

People wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus shop at the old grand bazaar of the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
People wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus shop at the old grand bazaar of the city of Zanjan, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of the capital Tehran, Iran, Sunday, July 5, 2020. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on June 31, 2020, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wears a protective face mask to help prevent to spread of the coronavirus while sitting under a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini during a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. Khamenei has publicized an image of himself in a mask in recent days, urging both public officials and the Islamic Republic's 80 million people to wear them to stop the virus's spread. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on June 31, 2020, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wears a protective face mask to help prevent to spread of the coronavirus while sitting under a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini during a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes. Khamenei has publicized an image of himself in a mask in recent days, urging both public officials and the Islamic Republic’s 80 million people to wear them to stop the virus’s spread. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

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