Iran was an early center of the corona crisis. After a comparatively short lockdown, the number of cases increases significantly. It is not the only problem that the Islamic Republic is facing.
It started with doctors who discovered an enigmatic virus in the bodies of patients. The cases increased rapidly. Within weeks, tens of thousands were familiar with the novel Corona virus infected, several thousand died of the consequences – and these were only the official numbers. In February and March Iran one of the world’s first sources of fire for the pandemic.
The regime played down the crisis for a long time. But the virus also spread among its high representatives: at least 20 clergymen and politicians are said to have died of the consequences; several close advisers from ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s spiritual and political leader, has been reported to be infected.
After an interim decrease, the number of new infections is now increasing significantly. The health ministry said on Friday that more than 2,300 people had been infected with the virus the previous day. At the beginning of May the number had been less than 1,000. Eight provinces and the capital Tehran were declared “red zones” last week.
The exact death numbers are unknown
The situation in Iran is getting worse, the Bundestag member Omid Nouripour told SPIEGEL. The Green Party foreign policy spokesman, born in Tehran, sees the country in the middle of a second wave.
It is a second wave with an announcement. After a nearly two-week lockdown, President dropped Hassan Rohani gradually remove most of the restrictions from the second half of April. Health experts warned of the consequences; Critics accused Rohani of putting the economy above the health of the population. Nevertheless, everyday life returned in many places: subways, buses and markets filled up. During the month of Lent Ramadan, believers prayed together again in the mosques in the evening. The epidemic is now under control in ten of the 31 provinces, Rohani said on Iranian television on Saturday. Museums and historical sites across the country will therefore reopen to visitors from Sunday.
Although Iran was hit the earliest and hardest in the Middle East by the virus, no significant measures to contain it have been taken for a long time: Millions of Iranians traveled throughout the country for the Persian New Year on March 20. None of the hardest hit cities has been quarantined. Ajatollah Khamenei spread instead conspiracy theories.
Now the government has to accept the accusation that it not only reacted too late to the outbreak, but also canceled or loosened the measures taken to contain the virus too early.
According to official figures, the number of corona cases in the country is just under 132,000; of these, more than 102,000 people have recovered. 7300 people have died as a result.
Experts at home and abroad – like a number of Iranian politicians – assume that the numbers are actually many times higher. The regime tightly controls the flow of information: reports say the official death toll has been kept artificially low by putting pressure on doctors and hospital leaders.
“Lack of transparency, corruption and mismanagement are a deadly mixture in the fight against the virus,” says the Green politician Nouripour. The situation worsens because exactly these three elements coincided. “On top of that, US sanctions are making life more difficult for ordinary people.”
Iran’s economic scope is particularly tight
How do you protect the health of the population and limit the damage to the economy as well as possible? Governments around the world are currently facing this question. But Iran’s scope is particularly tight. Even before the crisis, the country’s economy was in a desolate state:
It shrank by seven percent.
Inflation was at its highest in a quarter of a century.
The reinstatement of sanctions after the U.S.’s unilateral termination of the nuclear deal in 2018 led to a dramatic decline in foreign trade and oil exports.
The interruption of economic life due to the corona crisis continues to affect many in the country: it is estimated that it cost one to two million Iranians to work. Millions more are said to be affected by cuts in wages and working hours. The health experts who criticized Rohani for opening up the economy faced 50 economists who warned the president that an intensification of the economic situation could lead to a resurgence of protests, as the country saw last November.
Locust invasion as another challenge
In addition, the country is going through another second wave: According to the Iranian crop protection agency, seven provinces of the country are struggling with an invasion of desert locusts.
The plague devastated entire areas in Africa and the Middle East at the beginning of the year and also hit Iran in March. Experts predicted a second wave for May, which is now clearly hitting the country. The economic damage is said to be $ 7 billion.
Officials and trade unionists in the most affected parts of the country speak of an unprecedented plague: the locusts are larger than last year. According to other reports, dead insects are said to be 15 centimeters high after the use of pesticides.
The economic damageThe government in Tehran has little to do to counter the crises. You are increasingly running out of money. While Germany, for example, is the fourth largest economy in the world to put together an aid package that corresponds to a third of its economic output, the government in Tehran promises aid in the amount of two percent of the – recently clearly shrunk – gross domestic product to cope with the economic consequences.
Furthermore, the expected consequences of further corona outbreaks could also prove to be an economic disaster. Shops may be forced to close again. The health system would be hit hard. Keeping the economy alive would become increasingly difficult under such conditions.