The economic effects of COVID-19 in Iran
Iran has over 30,000 infections and is among the most affected countries in the world by Covid-19, also in terms of the number of victims (data updated on 27 March 2020)
- Confirmed cases 32.332
- Total recovered 11.133
- Total deaths 2.378
However, many people have doubts about the reliability of the numbers provided by local health authorities.
On 17 March, Rick Brennan, WHO’s Regional Emergency Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, confirmed that the number of cases reported by official sources in Tehran “could be only a fifth of the real ones”.
Among the problems found: the lack of tests and the chance to perform them only on patients who already have obvious symptoms.
Moreover, there are no ‘red zones’, no quarantine obligations have been imposed, and many citizens ignore requests to stay at home.
To deal with the emergency in the already overcrowded prisons with compromised hygiene conditions, the government has decided to temporarily release 85,000 prisoners, including some political prisoners.
The situation is even more difficult because of the sanctions imposed by the United States.
Calls for sanctions to be suspended or reduced are therefore multiplied.
Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has announced that he will not accept the aid offered by the United States, which he doubts he can trust. He also said, “maybe their medicines are a way to spread the virus”. Ali Khamenei said these words during a speech at “Nowruz” (Persian New Year’s Eve) and the Islamic holidays known as Isra and Miraj.
Because of the epidemic, the supreme leader had to cancel the traditional speech to the population from the Imam Reza sanctuary in Mashhad.
The government in Tehran, which had initially minimized the seriousness of the situation, subsequently ordered the shutdown of the schools and all the pilgrimage sites to avoid mass gatherings. It also suspended Friday prayers and arranged for disinfection on the streets and in public places.
Iran is, therefore, fighting against Covid-19 while its economy is already in crisis because of the sanctions imposed by Washington.
Earlier last week, the Trump administration imposed a further crackdown on Iran’s unilateral sanctions after the United States left the JCPOA nuclear agreement.
These sanctions do not directly affect the health sector but have an undeniable weight in the fight against the spread of the epidemic.
Tehran has no access to the financial markets and is therefore unable to obtain medical supplies from abroad. This adds up to an oil embargo that deprives it of its main economic resource.
Iran is currently receiving aid from China and Russia and is using rather rudimentary technology to deal with the epidemic.
As I said earlier, there are increasing international calls for Washington to block or reduce sanctions during the pandemic period.
China, Russia, Pakistan and other countries have stressed that they are “against to the humanitarian spirit and an obstacle to international aid”, while Russia has pointed the finger at the attempt to make geopolitical reasons prevail over health emergencies.
But the hope of a ‘humanitarian truce’ in the wall against the wall between Washington and the Ayatollahs ended with statements by Mike Pompey.
Mike Pompey (the US Secretary of State) said: “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is his accomplice”.
According to him, the Iranian leadership is trying “to avoid responsibility for its serious, unqualified and deadly management of the virus. The Iranian people have suffered this kind of lies for 41 years”.
To try to deal with the emergency, in an unprecedented move, the Tehran government submitted a request for a $5 billion loan to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
This sum would certainly help to deal with the situation for a while, but it’s not clear if it will get it: the United States could use its veto power on the Fund’s board to block any allocation to Tehran.
In this situation with an unusual gesture on 21 March, through an open letter, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appealed directly to the American people: “in the name of justice and humanity, I address your conscience and Godly souls and call upon you to make your Administration and Congress see that the path of sanctions and pressure has never been successful and will never be so in the future. It is human discourse and action that produce results”.
Europe must continue to exert diplomatic pressure on the US to lift sanctions.
The alternative is not, as Washington believes, the collapse of the Islamic Republic, but an even more decisive turn towards China and Russia, already mobilised to help Tehran, and above all a further worsening of the conditions of the Iranian population.
By Michele Brunori