Iran’s Response to Coronavirus

Iran’s government was initially slow to react to the spread of coronavirus, which was first reported in Qom on February 19. But as the death toll rose, Iran upped its efforts to contain the disease, which had reached all 31 provinces by March 5. The government closed schools, universities and cultural centers and cancelled Friday prayer in several provinces. It dispatched security forces, firemen and health workers to disinfect streets and public transportation. In Qom, roadblocks were set up to screen people leaving the city. On March 3, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that the military would be mobilized to help fight the virus. In a rare public event since the virus outbreak, Khamenei wore protective latex gloves during a tree-planting in honor of National Arbor Day. The following actions have been taken by the government to contain the virus:

  • Army Mobilized: On March 3, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the army to mobilize to help fight the coronavirus. Authorities said that 300,000 troops would deploy to help sanitize public places, direct traffic, and test and treat citizens. Health Ministry spokesman, Ali Reza Raisi, said that the military would also help track who infected patients may have contacted before falling ill.

Related Analysis: Iran Mobilizes Military to Fight Coronavirus

  • Parliament suspended: On March 3, parliament sessions were suspended indefinitely after 23 lawmakers—nearly 10 percent of the Majles—were infected. “These people have a close relationship with the people and they carry different viruses from different parts of the country, which may create a new virus, so we recommend the lawmakers to cut off their relationship with the public for now,” said Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Abdolreza Mesri. On March 11, parliament’s Social Commission announced that the Majles would convene the following week via teleconference. The lawmakers were scheduled to discuss a bill on the national budget. ​​​​
  • Prisoners Released: On March 3, the judiciary announced that it would grant temporary leave to 54,000 healthy prisoners to help stem the spread of the virus. Prisoners with long sentences or those deemed dangerous to the public would not be released. Some prisoners had to pay large bails in exchange for furloughs. Cases had been reported in at least three prisons— Karaj Prison, Evin Prison and Tehran's Greater Prison, also known as Fashafuyeh. Iranian lawmakers and human rights organizations had pressured Iran to act. On March 9, Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi announced that 70,000 prisoners had been temporarily freed. He said that additional prisoners would be released "to the point where it doesn’t create insecurity in society." On March 17, the judiciary reported that 85,000 prisoners had been released. On March 24, President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would extend furloughs granted to 85,000 prisoners. The return date for inmates was moved from April 3 to April 19. 

Related Analysis: Coronavirus Spreads in Iran’s Prisons

  • Cities Sanitized: The government dispatched workers to disinfect streets and public transportation across the country. In Tehran, workers sanitized malls, public parks, buses and subway trains. In Mashhad, at the Imam Reza Shrine, cleaners in hazmat-suits cleaned surfaces that religious pilgrims often kiss and touch. Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard used armored trucks to spray down streets in the holy city of Qom, where the outbreak began. A banner on one truck read: “Operation Crackdown on Corona.” In Golestan province, the government reportedly deployed remote-controlled sprinkler drones to sterilize mosques, hospitals and government buildings. 
  • Schools closed: On February 28, officials announced a nationwide closure of schools and universities until March 2. On March 2, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said that the closure would extend through March 7. On March 5, Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced that schools and universities would be closed until March 20. 
  • Prayers cancelled: On February 27, authorities cancelled Friday prayer in the capitals of 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces as a precautionary measure. It was the first time prayer was cancelled since the 1979 revolution. On March 4, Mohammad-Javad Haj Ali-Akbar, Chairman of the Friday Prayers Policy-Making Council, announced that Friday prayer would be cancelled for a second week in a row. The cancellation was extended to all provincial capitals. 
  • Roadblocks and Screening Campaign: On March 3, Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced that a nationwide screening campaign would begin the following day. Most of the screenings would be conducted remotely through a smartphone app that prompts users to input their condition. “Our method is not going into homes,” Namaki said on state television. “We can use digital communications and ultimately the telephone. So we don’t see a reason to go to the doors of peoples’ homes.” The government also set up roadblocks and checkpoints to screen people in major cities. On March 4, Ali Abrazi, Qom University of Medical Science's Deputy Dean, said that medical teams would begin taking temperatures of individuals trying to leave the city. 
  • Mass Production of Face Masks and Sanitary Supplies: On February 25, Reza Rahmani, Minister of Industry, Mining and Trade, announced that 13 major mask production facilities were operating 24 hours to meet the growing demand. Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said that Iran was manufacturing around 1.5 million face masks per day by March 2. On March 4, Mahdi Shah-Moradi, an official from Iran's National Medical Equipment Producers' Association, said that the country had increased its capacity to produce alcohol-based sanitizers. 
  • Government Travel Suspended: On March 4, Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri announced the suspension of overseas travel for government officials. "The decision has been taken to reduce possible disease transmission to the country from foreign states. Obviously, those officials who have been dispatched abroad on mission will be allowed to attend their job and normal life after their health is confirmed by the Health Ministry," Jahangiri said. He added that "exceptional cases" would need approval by senior officials. 
  • Nowruz Celebrations Cancelled: On March 12, Iran’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism cancelled several festivities for Nowruz, the two-week Iranian new year celebration beginning on March 20. Minister of Culture Ali-Asghar Mounesan sent letters to officials in all 31 provinces ordering them to cancel festivals and shut down museums. He added that the provinces should work with the ministry to prevent large public gatherings at cultural sites and resorts during the holiday.
  • Elections suspended: On March 15, the Interior Ministry announced that parliamentary runoff elections scheduled for March 18 would be postponed to September 12. The decision was confirmed by the Guardian Council.
  • Ramadan Gatherings Banned: On April 9, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that mass gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins at the end of April, would be banned. “We are going to be deprived of public gatherings of the month of Ramadan,” Khamenei said. “In the absence of these meetings, remember to heed your prayers and devotions in your lonesomeness.”


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Some of the information in this article was originally published on March 4, 2020.