News Digest: Week of June 22

June 22

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health reported 207,525 cases of COVID-19, including 9,742 deaths. Health Minister Namaki said that 87 percent of Iranians who had died from COVID-19 were obese or had underlying medical issues. 

Health/Education: Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei announced that students at large schools will alternate days that they attend class in the new school year. “Schools will be open on Thursdays (the day before the weekend), with the aim of managing students entering the school. Some will be at school on even days, and some will be at school on odd days,” Mirzaei said. 

Justice: Security forces raided the offices of the Popular Students Relief Society, a charity group based in Tehran, and arrested the organization’s founder and two of his aides. Sharmin Meimandinejad, the charity’s founder, was arrested at his home on undisclosed charges. Hardliners had previously accused the charity group of being an instrument for Iran’s enemies in the West.

Economy: The Iranian rial dropped to its lowest value ever against the U.S. dollar, trading at 200,000 rials for one U.S. dollar at the free market rate. The dip came amidst deteriorating economic conditions due to U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic. 


June 23

Health: Iran recorded 209,970 infections and 9,863 deaths from coronavirus. The Ministry of Health reported 121 new fatalities from COVID-19, the country's highest daily increase in deaths since April 11. After a dip in the death count in May, daily fatalities related to COVID-19 slowly began to increase in June.


June 24

Health: Iran reported 212,501 cases, including 9,996 deaths from COVID-19. It was the country’s highest daily increase in deaths since April 8. Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said that 1,502,525 Iranians – about two percent of the population -- had been tested for the virus.

Sanctions: The United States sanctioned five Iranian ship captains who had delivered 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela. The captains of the Clavel, Faxon, Forest, Fortune and Petunia were employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and National Iranian Tanker Company, both sanctioned by the United States. “As a result of today’s sanctions, these captains' assets will be blocked,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Their careers and prospects will suffer from this designation. Mariners who are considering work with Iran and Venezuela should understand that aiding these oppressive regimes is simply not worth the risk.”

Diplomacy/Nuclear: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran would be open to talks with Washington if the United States apologized for leaving the 2015 nuclear agreement and paid Iran for damages incurred under sanctions. “We have no problem with talks with the U.S., but only if Washington fulfils its obligations under the nuclear deal, apologies and compensates Tehran for its withdrawal from the 2015 deal,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. “But we know these calls for talks with Tehran are just words and lies.”

Nuclear: The United Nations Security Council was slated to hold discussions over a U.S. proposal to extend a U.N. arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire in October. Russia and China had publicly rejected the U.S. initiative weeks before.

Health: Health Minister Namaki said that Iran was working toward developing its own vaccine for the virus. "We have made good progress, but it is still too early to unveil our work. In the coming days, good news will be announced about a vaccine for coronavirus,” Namaki said at a press conference. He added that the Health Ministry was offering free COVID-19 tests to any individuals showing symptoms. 


June 25

Health: Iran’s Ministry of Health reported 215,096 cases, including 10,130 deaths from COVID-19. “We call on all our compatriots to follow the health protocols, especially the elderly and those with underlying diseases,” Health Ministry spokesman Sima-Sadat Lari said in a press conference. “We also urge children and young people not to be present in crowded centers, to keep their distance from the elderly, grandparents, and to help them to stay at home as much as possible.”

Economy: President Rouhani announced that Iran would begin exporting oil from the Gulf of Oman coast by March 2021. The country had historically relied on the Strait of Hormuz to export its oil to foreign buyers. “This is a strategic decision and an important step for Iran that will secure the continuation of our oil exports,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. “This move will assure our oil buyers that Iran will continue exporting oil if the Strait is closed.” He added that Iran aimed to export 1 million barrels per day from Bandar-e Jask, a port on Iran’s Gulf of Oman coast, by next year.


June 26

Health: Iran recorded 217,724 infections and 10,239 fatalities from COVID-19. Health Ministry spokesman Sima-Sadat Lari said that East Azarbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, and Alborz provinces all had an increased number of hospitalized patients.

Health/Tourism: Ali Asghar Mounesan, Iran’s minister of cultural heritage, tourism and handicrafts, said that country's tourism industry was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Local tourism in the country has now begun with all the health protocols in place, and, as of early August, with the plans that have been made, we will see the presence of foreign tourists in the country again,” Mounesan said in a radio interview.

Health/Economy: Musa Alizadeh-Tabataee, Iran’s deputy ambassador to Iraq, announced that all border points with Iraq would be opened soon. He said that 80 percent of the crossings were already open with new health protocols but that many of the southern crossings remained closed. 

Justice/Espionage: Denmark convicted Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Norwegian man of Iranian descent, of spying for the Islamic Republic. Loloei reportedly collected photos and information on an exiled Iranian member of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, an Arab separatist group in Iran. Danish prosecutors alleged that an Iranian intelligence service wanted to use the information to assassinate the dissident. Loloei was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the plot.