Mandatory mask in some public places and green light to restore restrictive measures: in the face of an epidemic that is not weakening, the Iranian government decreed remobilization on Sunday, the day after a call by the Supreme Leader for vigilance.
Iran, the country hardest hit by the pandemic in the Middle East, recorded a record 144 deaths in the past 24 hours, a near three-month high that brings the national death toll to 10,508.
On Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lamented that initial efforts to contain the disease had “decreased on the part of some people and authorities,” warning that the country’s economic problems would worsen if the epidemic spread unchecked.
Iran has never imposed mandatory confinement, but the authorities have repeatedly called on the population to wear a mask in public, before decreeing that its use would be mandatory in “covered spaces where there are clusters” from Saturday, the beginning of the week in Iran.
Calling on Iranians to prepare for the virus “in the long term,” President Hassan Rohani announced that the measure will have to be implemented until 22 July and can be extended if necessary, at a meeting of the National Committee to Combat the Pandemic broadcast on state television.
Rohani added that the health ministry had prepared a list of at-risk grouping sites, without giving details on possible sanctions for non-compliance.
According to Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, “services will not be provided” to those who do not wear masks in places such as “government offices and shopping malls”.
As early as Saturday, the Ministry of Health had launched a “I wear a mask” campaign to encourage Iranians to comply with health protocols.
But implementing the measure could be difficult, as Tehran Mayor Pirouz Hanachi says many people do not wear masks, especially on public transport in the capital, where it is already compulsory.
“[Only] 50% of subway passengers wear masks […] and it’s even less on buses,” Hanachi said, as quoted by the semi-official Isna news agency, adding that he could not afford to enforce the measure.
Official figures show an upward trend in new cases confirmed since early May, when Iran reached a low number of new infections.
In the last 24 hours, 2,489 new cases have been reported, bringing the total to 222,699, while such a number of deaths (144 in one day) had not been recorded since 5 April.
Authorities canceled public events, closed non-essential businesses and banned travel between provinces in March before gradually lifting restrictions from April in an attempt to revive the country’s economy, stifled by U.S. sanctions reimposed by Washington after its 2018 withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
But as the epidemic did not weaken, the authorities resolved on Sunday to give the green light to the most affected provinces — those classified as “red” according to the risk scale established by the authorities — to restore restrictions on their population.
According to Mr. Rohani, the authorization will also be extended to provinces with “red” counties — provincial subdivision.”
“The provincial committee of any red county may propose to reimpose limitations for one week” and these may be extended if necessary, he said.
The northwestern county of Zanjan has already reimposed such measures for two weeks, its governor, Aliréza Asgari, said on Sunday, adding that the decision had been taken because of “some indifference on the part of residents” and “the resumption of the number of deaths in recent weeks”.
Restrictions include the closure of wedding halls and a ban on funerals held in mosques, as these can lead to large gatherings, Asgari added.