Rouhani’s Evolving Views on COVID-19

President Hassan Rouhani’s position on the COVID-19 pandemic gradually evolved as the crisis expanded and the death toll mounted. The first official report of deaths from the new virus was on February 19. Rouhani initially downplayed the threat of the disease. On February 23, he compared the impact of the virus to U.S. sanctions; he claimed the psychological effect of both was far worse than reality. On February 25, Rouhani claimed that the virus was under control and the number of people hospitalized had “reduced dramatically.” But the number of cases and deaths attributed to coronavirus continued to rise. By March 1, Iran reported 978 cases and 54 deaths.

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Rouhani’s tone had changed by mid-March, when Iran reported nearly 13,000 cases and more than 600 deaths from the virus. In a letter to world leaders on March 14, Rouhani acknowledged the severity of Iran’s outbreak and urged international unity. “This virus does not know any borders and chooses its victims without any political, religious, ethnic and racial consideration,” he said. “Confronting the virus requires coordinated regional and international actions on the one hand, and taking tough measures, meeting the basic needs of the people, providing financial support to those affected by the suspension of economic businesses, enormous health and medical costs, etc. on the other hand.”

On March 29, Rouhani warned that Iran’s “new way of life" could last for an extended period. “We must prepare to live with the virus until a treatment is discovered. The new measures that have been imposed are for everyone’s benefit. Our main priority is the safety and the health of our people," Rouhani said. The following traces the evolution of President Rouhani’s statements on the coronavirus crisis.

 

Feb. 24, 2020, in a meeting with cabinet members:

“We give an assurance that we’d do our utmost to ensure the health of people. Accordingly, we immediately set up the headquarters to prevent and combat (coronavirus) and have mobilized all of our resources.”

“Our purpose is to control the disease in the shortest time with the minimum casualties.”

 

Feb. 25, 2020, in a meeting at the National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus:

“The decisions made by the headquarter are binding and unnecessary gatherings will be closed down.”

“In today's session, I emphasized to the Minister of Health and Medical Education that whatever medical personnel at hospitals need for their protection must be prioritized and provided as quickly as possible.”

“The report states that the virus is being controlled and the number of people going to hospitals has reduced dramatically.”

“I want to emphasize that all health facilities and our caring personnel are trusted by all people and they have always been active at all junctures.”

“Activities throughout the country must continue like the previous weeks and months, but in public situations people have to exercise the health and medical care.”

“In schools, high schools, universities and work places, everybody should pay attention to health recommendations, but we must all continue our work and activities, because it is one of the enemies' plots to spread fear in our country and close down the country.”

“The National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus recommends people not to hold unnecessary gatherings.”

“Everyone must consider these decisions binding. Regarding its religious aspect, because these decisions are endorsed by the Supreme National Security Council and the Supreme Leader, we have to abide by them.”

 

Mar. 4, 2020, in a cabinet meeting:

“This disease is a widespread disease. It has reached almost all our provinces and in one sense it’s a global disease.”

 “They [the United States] have appeared with a mask of sympathy that ‘we also want to help the people of Iran.’ If you are really telling the truth, you should at least lift your sanctions on medicine. This would be a first step. And you also need to admit that you have done wrong to the Iranian nation and offer them an apology.”

“The worst thing the ill-wishers of Iran and Iranians can do is to exploit the circumstances brought up by the intrusion of one virus into the country to target our people.”

 

Mar. 11, 2020, in a cabinet meeting

“The entire government is playing a role in the committee. There is no individual in our administration that is not engaged.”

“What does a normal life mean? This means electricity, water, petrol, gas and monetary issues. Our effort is focused on making people’s lives, which are currently difficult, easier and more tolerable.”

 

Mar. 14, 2020, in a letter to world leaders

"This virus does not know any borders and chooses its victims without any political, religious, ethnic and racial consideration."

"Confronting the virus requires coordinated regional and international actions on the one hand, and taking tough measures, meeting the basic needs of the people, providing financial support to those affected by the suspension of economic businesses, enormous health and medical costs, etc. on the other hand; the implementation of these measures requires a strong economic power and tens of billions of dollars in funding."

"Their [United States] Secretary of State has impudently urged other countries to make sending humanitarian aid to Iran subject to the fulfilment of America's irrational and inhumane demands."

"There is no doubt that in the face of a dangerous global epidemic, Tehran and Qom are not far from Paris, London and New York, and any policy that weakens the economic structure and medical system, and limits financial resources for crisis management, will have direct effects on the fight against the epidemic in other countries."

"It is time for the international community to stand up to the United States' illegal and inhumane bullying and not let the unjust U.S. sanctions against Iran affect the fight against the deadly virus."

"U.S. sanctions against Iran -and following them by other nations- are not only illegal and contrary to U.N. Security Council resolution, but also unethical and inhumane, and its inhumane dimension today concerns no longer only the Iranian people, but the people of the region, and it encompasses other countries as well; this is not a collective punishment of the Iranian people, but a collective punishment against all humanity.”

 

Mar. 18, 2020, in a cabinet meeting

“Compare Tehran to London, Berlin, and Paris… See for yourselves what is going on there. Shop racks have been emptied and people got into a fight over a roll of toilet paper. The people there are concerned about foodstuffs and their hospitals say they have run out of beds. However, we rushed to supply the public requirements amid the situation.”

“Some ask why the government isn’t intervening, but I think we have intervened significantly.”

“Great things have been done (including) measures no other country has taken.”

 

Mar. 28, 2020, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

“Thank God we have strengthened our health system so much over the past six years that anyone infected with coronavirus enters hospitals today gets 90% of government and insurance payments and he only pays 10%, while in different countries, from the first test they want to take, they are charged between $1,300 to $1,500 for a night in hospital.”

“Thank God we are not one of those countries where food is available from 8am to 10am where if anyone goes at 10am, he faces empty shelves until tomorrow morning.”

“If God forbid, we get sick, we must observe the social distance. Today at this meeting. We asked people to stay in their own province and not travel to other provinces.

“There are also penalties for people who do not listen, which I hope will never happen. If people cooperate well with the police and law enforcement on the road, there is no need to fine them.”

“We know we are under sanctions, but we allocated 20 percent of our budget this year, about 100 trillion rials to fighting coronavirus.”

 

Mar. 29, 2020, in a cabinet meeting

“One doctor gave me an example, saying it was like the flu that is there, going and coming, rising and falling, and coming again. So we have to prepare ourselves to live with such a virus until a definite cure or a vaccine is found, none of which has happened yet.

“After starting our daily activities, it doesn't mean that we should put all those health protocols aside. We have to continue this new lifestyle for a while, and maybe even in some areas the disease can give us a chance to do a part of our life electronically, and this is in the interest of our society.

“We may change our relationships with people in offices, community services, and even distribution centres that supply the necessary goods, so there will be changes in our lifestyle that may last for some time.

“But here I would like to emphasise to the dear people of the country that we have not made any decisions to date at the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus unless we have discussed them in the specialized committees and the experts have identified the best way at that time.

“They told us that holy places should be closed for New Year's Eve, and we listened; they said Friday prayers should stop, we listened to everything the experts said and followed them.

“We can almost say that we started with unanimous decisions - it wasn't like 20% agreeing and 80% disagreeing, but we have always tried to come up with a single decision.

“But our dear people must know that besides health, which is the first principle for us today, production is also a principle; we cannot shut down production in the country; we cannot shut down the production and distribution of food and sanitation, or our shops and stores; We cannot close the public needs of people, including water, electricity, gas and transportation. This is not possible.

“That is, the management of the society is based on the idea that health, production, and security are the key to us; all the armed forces, the border guards, the police, and everybody are working.

“Another point I would like to say is that now is not the time for gathering teams and waging a political war; it is not about political war, nor party, nor ethnicity, nor national; but it is a public global issue.”

 

Apr. 11, 2020, in a press conference

“Easing restrictions does not mean ignoring health protocols ... Social distancing and other health protocols should be respected seriously by people.”

 

Apr. 12, 2020, in a press conference

“We had a sanctions virus, to which the coronavirus was added, but you [Europe and the United States] did not have the sanctions virus. You have one virus while we have two viruses.”

“We did better than you in the fight against the coronavirus.”

“This is an honor for all, for all our loved ones and people. Yes, our situation is relatively good in the fight against the disease and the dangerous virus, and our situation is better in comparison with some countries.”

 

Apr. 18, 2020, in a press conference

“A considerable number of people have not only observed health directives, but also have abided by the ‘stay-at-home’ motto very well and have not left home except for necessary affairs.”

“The Ministry of Health and Medical Education should work closely with relevant institutions to offer training to people and convince them of the necessity of abiding by the regulations and directives communicated to businesses which have resumed work.”

 

Apr. 20, 2020, in a call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

“In these difficult conditions, American pressure on the people of Iran is more inhumane than at any other time and the continuation of it is a barbaric crime against a great people and against all human principles and international regulations.”

 

Apr. 25, 2020, in a meeting with heads of Iranian private companies

“Our first request is that we should plan production long-term based on a pessimistic view that we might face this virus ... for months.”

“Maybe (we will face this) till the end of the year, we do not know.”

 

Apr. 26, 2020, during a meeting of the National Coronavirus Headquarters

“This is the first step in opening up religious sites that are of great interest to the people, and God willing, we hope that the white areas will expand day by day and we will have better conditions while the people observe.”

“Of course, our people have always come to the scene whenever there have been floods, earthquakes and other problems. Now, the month of Ramadan is also one of those occasions during which people should step forth and help in the face of hardships and problems.”

 

Apr. 28, 2020, in a phone call with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

“While the world is engulfed by the coronavirus epidemic and the policies must be shifted towards relations with (other) countries, sadly the US has intensified the unlawful sanctions against the Iranian nation, violated the world health regulations besides trampling on international rules, and is even preventing health and medical trade with Iran.”

 

Apr. 28, 2020, in a press conference

“Excessive fear, excessive anxiety, excessive worrying is worse than this corona itself and this virus and can really break up people’s lives and take away people’s comfort. But at the same time we shouldn’t be careless, meaning there must not be excessive anxiety and worrying and there must be necessary caution.”

 

Apr. 29, 2020, in a press statement

“I’m telling our dear people, because it is not clear when this virus outbreak is over, we should stand ready to keep working and continue to acquire science and knowledge, conduct research, keep the society alive and give hope to the society, with the assumption that unfortunately this virus is here to stay with people for quite some time.”

“We should base our activities on this assumption because today no one in the world can predict when this epidemic will be over. No one can tell how many days or weeks or months from now the epidemic will be over. So, we should go about our activities from a pessimistic perspective and with long-term planning, keeping in mind that this virus is here to stay.”

“This is the solution: We should abide by all health protocols, and don’t forget that it is necessary to work, produce and conduct activities while taking the required precautions.”

“Once, we would keep telling people to stay at home; now, we are telling people to stay home, too, if they have nothing essential to do outside. But we said they may leave home from a certain date onward to do necessary work and run essential errands while taking precautions.”

“We have urged people to stay out of home for as short a period of time as possible before returning home. That means we have moved from social distancing to smart social distancing.”

“When it comes to the coronavirus issue, the key solution is in people’s hands. As no treatment has been developed, yet, for the disease, and no specific medicine has been made for the virus, and no vaccine has been developed, the most important thing is to take care.”

 

Sept. 12, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

"Families should not pay attention to the enemies’ propaganda and anger over the reopening of educational centres throughout the country. They are upset about how Islamic Iran has maintained its solidarity despite all the sanctions and pressure."

"Hybrid education is applied with the measures taken, and students, in addition to the opportunity of attending classes, can also use the Internet and radio and television. The measures taken by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Science starting from last week have create a new vitality and spirit among the younger ones and showed that our country cares about the future of its young population."

"At the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, European and American countries were in a difficult situation, so that people rushed to stores and snatched masks that were going from one country to another at airports, but in our country there is no discrimination between ethnic and religious groups and even between Iranians, no non-Iranian in the treatment of coronavirus."

"With the coronavirus crisis, [the international community] did not even announce that the minimum drug embargo would be lifted, even with our country's request for a $5 billion loan to provide medicine and vaccines, and the United States did not allow it”.

"The rulers of the White House today have no sense of humanity...Above all, the countries that are our friends and our country's money is in their banks are not willing to release this money due to America’s pressure and everyone has retreated against the United States’ pressure and oppression. Such a crime is unprecedented in history."

"No one should say that schools, universities, markets and businesses should be closed for people’s health, because this is a wrong thing to do. Closing down is not the way to deal with coronavirus."

 

Sept. 19, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

"The statistics presented in the task force meeting today show that the rate of observance of people has decreased to 62% in the last week from 82%, which is very worrying because if people do not pay attention to warnings and public education, we will face a big problem in the coming months."

"Coronavirus is not an issue that will end next month, and even if the vaccine is available, we should establish a new lifestyle."

"Investments should be directed from some matters to more necessary matters. Today we need to intensify investment in health, healthcare, knowledge-based economy, digital economy and e-government."

 

Sept. 22, during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly

"The people of the world, having taken God-given blessings of health and security for-granted, were suddenly shaken by the outbreak of Covid-19. In spite of its tiny size, COVID 19 managed to challenge global management and national governance so seriously that the world’s most significant assembly is convening virtually through videoconference.

"Covid-19 is now a “common pain” for humanity—thanks to the rapid growth of science, technology and the media. This common pain has demonstrated that despite all progress, our ignorance as humans far outweighs our knowledge. Covid-19 is calling us to more humility and humbleness before the Almighty and the Truth of Creation. It is guiding human societies towards civil piety in promoting social and individual ethics as well as preventing environmental degradation and manipulation of nature and unhindered interference in the Creation. This universal plague that has crossed over the fabricated boundaries of power and wealth reminds us, once again as members of human society, that it would be impossible to confront common global issues without global participation.  

All of us across the globe are experiencing difficult times during the pandemic. However, my nation, the resilient people of Iran, instead of enjoying global partnership and cooperation, is grappling with the harshest sanctions in history imposed in blatant and gross violation of the Charter of the United Nations, international agreements and Security Council Resolution 2231."  

 

Sept. 26, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

"[The United States] even stopped the transfer of medicine, treatment and food, and we haven't seen people with such atrocity in the White House before."

"They committed the greatest atrocity in history and the person, whose title is the Secretary of State but he is indeed the U.S. Secretary of Crime, is also proud and says that this year I froze $70 billion in Iranian resources, which means that he is proud of hostility against the Iranian nation."

"If people want to blame anyone for the shortages and problems in the country, it should be directed towards the White House."

"I call on some people not to give the wrong address to the people because of their wrong group interests. The correct address for all the crimes and pressure against the dear people of Iran is Washington DC and the White House and those who are in this building, committing all these crimes against the Iranian nation, and you can see that the pressure and problems are intensifying every day."

 

Oct. 1, in a message to President Xi Jinping on Chinese National Day

"The outbreak of COVID-19, despite its problems, provided a ground for China to show its strength in helping the common human destiny, and once again to provide the fruits of empathy and determination of the people and government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People's Republic of China to develop cooperation. As the two countries have been fighting the disease together since its outbreak, I declare my country's readiness to participate in the production of COVID-19 vaccine with China, and I hope that with your Excellency's order, more fields for cooperation will be provided in this field."

 

Oct. 3, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

"People's appreciation to the medical staff is possible by wearing masks, observing physical distance and health instructions."

"While the economy of a developed country like Germany is facing problems due to the outbreak of coronavirus, our country has better conditions with the efforts of production and economic sectors, and we hope that the country's economic growth will be positive without oil or with oil at the end of the year."

"According to the statistics, the growth of this sector in the first six months of this year has been many times higher than last year, and the digital economy has played a very important role in complying with health principles and reducing physical contacts."

"The charts show well that by reducing observance and ignoring health protocols, we will immediately face an increase in disease. We have a national determination with a sense of social and moral responsibility."

"We need to increase supervision and monitoring, and even designate fines for violations and deal with them... Those who hide their disease should be fined."

 

 

Oct. 10, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

"If those infected with the virus appear in the society, they will be fined 200,000 tomans ($6.28)."

"Any person who appears in the society without wearing mask will be fined 50,000 tomans ($1.57), which must be deposited to the account that will be announced within two weeks."

"Business owners are obliged to provide services only to people who have followed these instructions."

"The Minister of Health and Medical Education has been informed that the number of test kits should be increased and the government will provide 10,000 additional test kits."

"$100 million has been allocated to buy kits that identify COVID-19 patients in the shortest time and with easier methods, and at the same time we are making these types of kits in the country and we will soon see a great transformation in the field of testing."

"In the recent wave of people who go to hospitals, there are many cases in which fathers, mothers, children, grandparents and grandmothers are all infected together."

"This new wave is due to the ease of transmission of the disease, which is due to caring less about observing health protocols."

 

Nov. 7, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

 

"Our country's decision in any situation has always been clear and our nation will continue its resistance and patience until the other side surrenders to the law and regulations." 

"It is only with the cooperation of the people and strict observance of all health instructions that can we see more peace in society in the fight against coronavirus." 

"The problem is that although ensuring the health of the people is the first and basic priority of the government, but providing livelihood and managing cultural and social affairs should not be neglected."

"It is true that using masks is very important, but it is not enough to just use masks, and physical distancing and avoiding communities and implementing other health regulations are also as important."

“With the arrival of the cold season, the presence of people in closed spaces and indoors naturally increases, which is naturally difficult to properly ventilate these spaces, and therefore it is necessary for people to avoid gathering indoors as much as possible."

“This category of citizenship should not violate the public rights and social health of society because not violating the standards of social health is part of the public and citizenship duty that must be observed and secured in the same way as public and citizenship rights.”

“Dealing with the coronavirus outbreak is an easy issue if health protocols are followed, but if members of the society ignore health protocols and become ill, it will be a difficult issue for the entire country.”

 

Nov. 15, in a presidential statement

"Due to the mutation of coronavirus and the rise of COVID-19 pandemic in the country, and at the suggestion of the Ministry of Health and the Coronavirus Operational Headquarters, the Comprehensive Coronavirus Combat Plan was approved at the National Task Force against Coronavirus, based on which, severe restrictions will be mandatory in various cities across the country as of next week [starting on Saturday]. In these conditions, the moral, religious and revolutionary duty of all of us is to preserve the life of society and to pay attention to public responsibility and to act in accordance with the requirements of these conditions. Therefore, I consider it my duty to inform the honorable people of Iran of the following:

"1- I announce public mobilization of the nation and the government to confront the third wave of coronavirus in the country;

"2- I call on all government departments and other branches and institutions to give assistance to the Ministry of Health and the medical staff of the country with all their facilities by strictly implementing the resolutions of the National Task Force against Coronavirus;

"3- I call on the Coronavirus Operational Headquarters to pursue the implementation by the responsible agencies of all the resolutions of the National Task Force;

"4- I call on the Plan and Budget Organization to immediately provide the funds required by the Ministry of Health and other agencies responsible for dealing with coronavirus in the implementation of this plan;

"5- I call on the Ministry of Health to fully – and without any negligence – implement the plan to monitor the quarantine of patients and identify the contact and warning ring and, if necessary, impose fines;

"6- I call on the Police and the Basij to implement in full and without exception the disciplinary decisions, the rules of physical distancing and severe health restrictions, and the officers to take action against the very small minority of violators who endanger the health security of the society;

"7- I call on the responsible media and politicians across the country to give priority to the task of informing and persuading the public in observing the health protocols, considering the definite priority of protecting the lives of the people, and confront political and partisan views of coronavirus;

"8- I also call on the intelligent and honorable people of Iran to protect other people’s general rights and their rights to life, to observe the rules of fighting coronavirus as their religious and social duty, and to invite everyone to this social duty, and do not tolerate any kind of negligence or abuse in this regard."

 

Nov. 17, in a meeting of the Cabinet's economic coordination board

"Undoubtedly, in the way of implementing these restrictions, low-income people will face problems, so despite all the problems and hardships that all honorable people are aware of, the government has decided to allocate supportive measures for the vulnerable groups."

 

Photo credit: Rouhani at Cabinet Meeting by Mehdi Marizad via Fars News Agency (CC BY 4.0)
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