Restaurants and nonessential businesses in Tehran were ordered to close at 6 p.m. for one month, to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and to slow the worsening outbreak, which has killed more than 38,000 – the highest toll in the Middle East. Iran has set single-day death records 10 times over the past month, a sign of how quickly the virus is spreading.
The announcement of new limits on Tehran’s bustling cafes and shops, the strictest since a brief nationwide business shutdown in April, reflects the growing sense of urgency among officials. In a first, Iranians’ phones lit up on Monday with a personal appeal from Saeed Namaki, the health minister.
“Do not leave your house for as long as you can and stay away from any crowded places,” his text read. “Coronavirus is no joke.”
Yet in the face of a steep economic decline, Iran continues to avoid a tough lockdown. The country is already squeezed by unprecedented American sanctions reimposed in 2018 when the Trump administration withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. Iran’s currency has plunged to new lows in recent weeks, hurting millions of destitute citizens.
Authorities may introduce other targeted measures, like a nighttime ban on through traffic on streets to keep Iranians from going to parties, Tehran Governor Anoushiravan Bandpa said. But he stressed again that the city will steer clear of more drastic limits on daily life.
As Iran’s infection rate soars and strains hospitals, the debate over the government’s response to the virus has grown heated. Medical officials this week lambasted the government’s refusal to shut down the hard-hit capital, which they say is the only hope for containing the virus’ spread.
“The lack of a lockdown in Tehran is a disaster,” said Mino Mohraz, a member of the country’s coronavirus task force, according to local media.
“Usually countries that do not listen to health officials face problems,” she added. “A good example is the United States.”