Part 3: Iran's Surge in COVID-19 Cases

Iran experienced a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases in early June following the gradual reopening of businesses, mosques, schools and government offices in April and May. On June 2, Health Minister Saeed Namaki expressed concern that Iranians had become "completely careless" with health protocols. "They either have total confidence in us or think the coronavirus has gone. The latter is not true at all," Namaki said. “Every 33 seconds one Iranian is infected with the coronavirus and every 13 minutes one dies from it,” Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a press conference on June 27.

Daily Cases Sept 30

 

As of early July, nine out of 31 provinces -- Khuzestan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, West Azarbaijan, East Azarbaijan, and Khorasan Razavi -- were considered "red zones" due to the high number of infections.

Infected officials


Iran made masks mandatory at all indoor gatherings from July 5 until July 22 to curb the outbreak. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged citizens to wear face coverings. By September 30, Iran reported a total of 457,219 cases and 26,169 fatalities—a mortality rate of 5.7 percent. 

Confirmed Cases Sept 30

On July 8, Iranian media reported that at least six newly-elected members of parliament had tested positive for COVID-19. The infected lawmaker included Vahid Jalalzadeh, a representative from the city of Urmia and former governor of West Azerbaijan province, and Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, a representative from Kerman who was reportedly in an intensive care unit. Some 100 lawmakers had been tested for the virus, and nine of them had tested positive, according to Mohammad Hussein Farhanghi, a spokesman for the board of directors for parliament.

Infected MPs


At least nine current or former officials had died from COVID-19, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of the Expediency Council, and Hossein Sheikholeslam, a former deputy foreign minister and ambassador to Syria who had been a major figure during the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. For more information, see: "Iranian Officials Infected by COVID-19."

confirme deaths sept 30

On July 18, President Hassan Rouhani said that 25 million Iranians, about 30 percent of the population, may have been infected by COVID-19. “There is the possibility that between 30 and 35 million more people will be at risk,” he warned. The estimates that Rouhani cited were much higher than the official figures. But on July 19, Health Ministry officials clarified that the 25 million figure was based on serological tests, which only determine if people have been exposed to the virus. “It is not possible to rely on serological tests to diagnose the current state of the disease,” according to a Health Ministry statement.

Dead Officials


For details and analysis on the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, see "Part 1: Coronavirus Strikes Iran" and “Part 2: Iran Tries to Reopen."

 

Week 1: May 31 - June 6

On May 31, President Rouhani praised Iran's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. "Our country’s statistics and figures as well as the economic fallout of coronavirus are comparable to developed countries of the world," Rouhani said. "Today, after having fought this dangerous virus for 100 days, during which our health sector and the entire nation did a great job, we see acceptable conditions [in terms of containing the pandemic].” 

On June 1, Health Minister Namaki warned that Iran could face a stronger second wave of infections if people did not follow health guidelines. "The outbreak is not over yet and at any moment it may come back stronger than before," Namaki said in a news conference. "If our people fail to respect the health protocols ... we must prepare ourselves for the worst situation."

On June 2, Health Minister Namaki expressed concern that Iranians had become "completely careless" with regard to the COVID-19. "They either have total confidence in us or think the coronavirus has gone. The latter is not true at all," Namaki said. "If we neglect the situation we will go backwards. People, have mercy on us, let’s have mercy on ourselves, government officials are getting tired."

On June 3, President Rouhani warned that Iran would reimpose restrictions if a second wave of infections hit the country. "If in any part of the country these warnings aren’t taken seriously and God forbid the outbreak of illness peaks again, the authorities will have to reimpose restrictions," Rouhani said in a statement on his website. "This issue will create problems for the ordinary life of citizens and will also bring serious economic damage to the society." He urged Iranians to avoid nonessential travel.

Rouhani

President Rouhani met with the National Coronavirus Task Force on June 4


On June 5, Iran's tourism ministry announced that the country could reopen to foreigners by mid-summer. "Based on our tourism marketing program monitoring and data analysis from the neighboring countries, the Persian Gulf littoral states, and the European Union, an initial forecast suggests that Iran will open land borders to neighbors as of 15th of Tir (July 5) and some of its air borders as of 1st of Mordad (July 22)," said Mohammad-Ebrahim Larijani, the director of the ministry’s advertising and marketing office. "We are constantly monitoring [our target] countries and we have decided, in the first phase, to resume tourism interactions with the neighboring countries."

On June 6, President Rouhani warned that the COVID-19 outbreak was not over in the country. "The period of the coronavirus epidemic is going to be long, and we don’t know when it will end; under such circumstances, health directives must be closely observed," Rouhani said. "Meeting the needs in the health and treatment sector to fight coronavirus, supplying necessary services to society, providing basic and essential goods, and supplying stimulus packages to low-income families are four main duties of the government, and the trend of discharging all these responsibilities is going well."

President Rouhani blamed a wedding party for the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. “At one location, we witnessed a peak in this epidemic, the source of which was a wedding that caused problems for the people, health workers and losses to the economy and the country’s health system,” Rouhani said on state television. 

President Rouhani announced that theaters and concert halls would reopen on June 21. The Ministry of Health limited seating capacity to 50 percent for all venues. 

 

Week 2: June 7 - 13

On June 7, the Ministry of Health said that Iran's spike in coronavirus cases was due to increased testing. "The main reason for rising numbers is that we started identifying (infected people) with no or light symptoms," said Mohammad-Mehdi Gouya, the health ministry's head epidemiologist. He added that it was normal for a slight rise in infections after reopenings. 

Iran announced that it would allow foreign students to return to universities in Iran on September 5. Abdolhamid Alizadeh, the director general of the Iranian Science Ministry’s office of foreign students, said that 15,680 foreign students left Iran in March due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

On June 8, Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour urged citizens to wear masks in public places to stem a second wave of coronavirus infections. "Everybody must wear masks when attending places like stores or any other place where it is not possible to observe social distancing carefully," Jahanpour said on state television. 

On June 9, the Ministry of Health estimated that about 15 million Iranians, nearly one in fifth of the population, had been infected with COVID-19. This means the virus was "much less lethal than we or the world had anticipated," said Ehsan Mostafavi, a member of the country's COVID-19 task force. 

Health Minister Saeed Namaki replaced Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpur after several controversial tweets and comments to the media. Namaki said that the spokesperson was required to get approval before expressing personal opinions on social media. Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the Students Affairs Deputy of the Ministry, was appointed as the new spokesperson. Namaki urged Lari to refrain from "political games" and concentrate on the ministry's mission. 

 

Ehsan Mostafavi, the head of the Research Center for Emerging and Reemerging Infectious Diseases at the Iran's Pasteur Institute, said that the country's young population and widespread testing had lead to a lower mortality rate than other countries. "One determining factor is the younger population of the country. Median age in Iran is 31, while the number stands at 45 in Spain and 47 in Italy," Mostafavi said. 

On June 13, President Rouhani urged citizens to continue to adhere to health protocols, warning that the population had not reached "collective immunity" from the virus. "No matter how advanced the country is, the number of beds and medical facilities as well as medical personnel is limited; so, everybody should keep cooperating with regards to observing directives," Rouhani said. 

 

Week 3: June 14 - 20

On June 14, Iran recorded 107 deaths from COVID-19, the country's largest daily increase in fatalities since April 13. "Today it was very painful for us to announce a triple digit statistic... this virus is unpredictable and shifting," said Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari. "Observe health protocols, take social distancing seriously, avoid gatherings and trips that aren’t essential and, God willing, in the coming days we will see the statistic come down into double digits and even single digits."

On June 15, Iran reopened kindergartens across the country. The Ministry of Health restricted capacity to 50 percent and required all children to have their temperatures checked before entering the classroom. 

kindergarten

Children had their temperatures checked before class on June 15


Government spokesman Ali Rabiei warned that Iran may have to reimpose restrictions after a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths. "In the (Tehran) subway, although 90 percent of passengers use masks, social distancing is not being observed," Rabiei said during a news conference. "If we find that the spread of the virus is out of control... then we will definitely apply strict decisions again."

On June 16, President Rouhani said that Iran was engaged in two separate battles, one against COVID-19 and another against "cruel and inhumane" U.S. sanctions. "One of the country’s glories in simultaneous handling of the sanctions and the coronavirus has been fulfillment of the necessary needs of people in the market, in such a way that we prevented the inhumane dream of those imposing sanctions from coming true, which was causing problems and distress in the daily economic lives of people and the supply of items they need for livelihood," Rouhani said.

On June 17, three prominent Iranian physicians penned a letter to President Rouhani urging him to prioritize "preserving people's lives and health to everything else." The doctors called on the government to reimpose health restrictions to stem the country's second wave of infections. 

On June 18, President Rouhani said that the coronavirus outbreak has not stopped Iran's economic progress. He pointed to several new national projects in the transportation industry.  "Thank God, we are witnessing very good movements in the maritime routes and the ports, particularly in Chabahar, as well as in the railroad and land transportation," Rouhani said at a project inauguration ceremony in Tehran. 

On June 20, President Rouhani said that Iran may require citizens to wear masks in public places to help stem the spread a second wave of COVID-19 infections. "Mainly for crowded and covered areas...we may make (masks) compulsory in a week, more or less. But first plenty of inexpensive masks should be made available for the people," Rouhani said on state television. 

 

Week 4: June 21 - 27

On June 21, Health Minister Namaki said that Iran was still battling the first wave of COVID-19 infections. "We must believe and notify people that the coronavirus is not over. The peak of the disease has not passed. The coronavirus is a tricky virus with a hundred thousand faces. A protocol for treatment may be effectual in one region, but ineffective in another area," Namaki warned. 

On June 22, Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei announced that students at large schools will alternate days that they attend class in the new school year. "According to a recent decree issued by the National Headquarters to Fight against Coronavirus, schools will be open on Thursdays (the day before weekly holiday), 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. 

Health Minister Namaki said that 87 percent of Iranians who had died from COVID-19 were obese or had underlying medical issues. 

On June 23, Iran reported 121 new fatalities from COVID-19, the country's highest daily increase in deaths since April 11. After a decrease in deaths in May, daily fatalities related to COVID-19 slowly increased in June. 

On June 24, 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. "So far, no specific drug has been discovered for COVID-19, and the world is working on finding a vaccine." He added that the Health Ministry was offering free COVID-19 tests to any individuals showing symptoms. 

Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raeesi announced that 40 percent of residents in Qom and Gilan provinces and 15 percent of residents in Tehran province had contracted COVID-19. He added that the extent of infections in Iran's other provinces was between four to five percent.

On June 26, Ali Asghar Mounesan, Iran’s minister of cultural heritage, tourism and handicrafts, said that country's tourism industry had started to recover 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.  

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. Alizadeh-Tabataee added that many of the points along the southern border were still closed.

On June 27, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Iran's economy could further deteriorate if the country did not stem the spread of COVID-19. "It is correct to say that something must be done to prevent economic problems caused by the coronavirus," Khamenei said in a meeting with judiciary officials. "But in the case of negligence and significant spread of the disease, economic problems will increase, too."

Khamenei

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wore a mask during a press conference on June 27


The Ministry of Health launched the “#I wear mask” campaign to promote awareness of health protocols through social media. "I desperately - and in a friendly way - plead with people to cooperate in observing medical protocols for their own sake and that of others," Duputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a press conference. "Every 33 seconds one Iranian is infected with the coronavirus and every 13 minutes one dies from it."

 

Week 5: June 28 - July 4

On June 28, President Rouhani announced that all citizens would be required to wear masks at indoor gatherings starting on July 5 to stem the spread of COVID-19. The new protocol would remain in effect until July 22. 

On June 30, President Rouhani warned that the coronavirus would likely linger in the country throughout the current Iranian calendar year, which ends in March 2021. "Watchfulness and observance of the health principles must still be on the agenda of everybody, and attending the unnecessary gatherings must be avoided," Rouhani said. "Despite all efforts and the very good measures that have been taken in the fight against the disease and for the treatment of the patients, we still witness an increase in the number of infections in a number of cities because the coronavirus is unknown."

Iran announced that a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine would undergo human clinical trials "in the not too distant future." Health Minister Namaki said that the vaccine had already passed laboratory tests with animals.

On July 1, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts held a meeting to determine rules for foreign tourists. "Given the fact that some countries, especially neighboring countries, are gradually re-opening borders, the Islamic Republic of Iran needs to take action to define comprehensive health protocols," said Vali Teymouri, the deputy tourism minister. "We will form a framework of the health protocol that ensures healthy visit of foreign travelers."

On July 3, Iran reintroduced a week-long lockdown on seven cities in the southern province of Hormuzgan, including Bandar Abbas, one of the country's biggest port cities on the Persian Gulf. The shutdown included all schools, universities, most offices, cinemas, restaurants, public pools, gyms and parks. Hormozgan Governor General Fereydoun Hemmati said that the province had experienced an uptick in cases and fatalities due to tourists and overcrowded bazaars. 

On July 4, President Rouhani warned citizens against hiding COVID-19 infections. "We see that some consider being infected with the virus bad and hide it. If someone knows that they have been infected with coronavirus, they have a religious and human duty to inform others about it," Rouhani said in a speech. "At the workplace and elsewhere as well as places of gathering, all infected people must tell others that they have contracted the disease, and if somebody has found out that another person is infected, they should reveal it, so that we will be able to get through this problem."

Rouhani

President Hassan Rouhani wore a mask at a Coronavirus Task Force meeting on July 4

 

Week 6: July 5 - 11

On July 6, Iran banned the export of face masks amid an uptick in COVID-19 infections. "The Ministry of Industry, Mine and Trade makes every effort to remove obstacles to production, especially those in the cycle of producing masks," said Jamshid Golpour, head of the Industry and Trade Ministry’s Center for Guilds and Businesspeople. "Producers are expected to provide distribution networks with standard masks at already approved prices." Golpour called on vendors to increase online sales of masks to Iranians.

On July 7, Iran recorded a daily record for COVID-19 fatalities. The Ministry of Health reported 200 new deaths, exceeding the previous record of 163 deaths on July 5. "I repeatedly said to our people that it’s extremely dangerous to understate the situation," Health Minister Namaki said on state television before announcing the latest figures. "Unfortunately, our pleas fell on deaf ears until we were gripped by a new wave [of infections]."

On July 8, Health Minister Namaki blamed "criminal" U.S. sanctions for Iran's struggles to contain COVID-19.  He also criticized Iranian officials, accusing them of  "negligence," having no economic plan, and "losing control" of the country's outbreak. "This country’s president must think about the people’s livelihood. This country’s administration, the security forces, the law enforcement, and the military forces must think about the livelihood and how to prevent an insurrection," Namaki said. 

Iraq partially reopened the Shalamcheh border crossing with Iran after more than three months. Trade was restricted to 500 trucks per week transporting food and other essential items. Both governments implemented new health protocols at the border to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

On July 9,  Iranian Parliament Speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf accused the United States of hampering Iran's efforts to fight COVID-19. He called on the international community to condemn U.S. sanctions on Iran, which he called an "inhumane" act. "Since the outbreak of the dangerous virus, despite pressures and calls from international organizations to halt or reduce the U.S.-led sanctions against various nations, including Iran, Washington’s maximum pressure has been on the rise," Qalibaf said in a virtual meeting of the Asian Parliamentary Assembly. 

IRGC Commander Hossein Salami called on citizens to continue to follow health protocols. "The coronavirus is not weakening and is still active, affecting new areas every day, and we should not show weaknesses," Salami said in a meeting with with provincial commanders. "As no decisive treatment currently exists, we can only tackle this disease by following the health protocols and taking preventive measures."

A combination of Hepatitis C antiviral drugs exhibited "provocative and encouraging" results against the virus during hospital trials in Iran, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. According to the study, conducted in four university hospitals in three Iranian cities, 94 percent of patients given the drugs, Sofosbuvir and Daclatasvir, showed reduced fevers and symptoms compared to 70 percent in a control group given a placebo. "We desperately need antivirals that can be given early on in the course [of the disease] to prevent individuals from requiring hospitalization," Fauci told reporters. "I’d encourage that we do further studies to nail this down."

 

On July 11, President Rouhani rejected the idea of disrupting economic activities to stem an uptick in COVID-19 cases. He warned that a nationwide lockdown could prompt protests. "The easiest option is to shut down everything," Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting. "But then people will pour into the streets because of hunger and unemployment." Instead, Rouhani called for a ban on weddings and funerals. "We must ban ceremonies and gatherings all over the country, whether it be wakes, weddings or parties," Rouhani said. "Now is not the time for festivals or seminars."

Shortly after Rouhani's speech, Ali Reza Zali, the head of Tehran’s virus task force, announced a ban all conferences, festivals and exhibitions and restricted wedding and funeral ceremonies to 10 people. City officials increased the number of COVID-19 testing centers from 56 to 90 as the spread of the virus accelerated. 

Hossein Qenaati, an advisor to Iran’s Coronavirus Task Force, said that between 50,000 and 60,000 Iranians could die from the virus if the public did not adhere to health protocols. "The second wave, which will occur in the fall, will be much more deadly," Qenaati warned, according to ISNA news agency.

 

Week 7: July 12 - 18

On July 13, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the resurgence of COVID-19 "truly tragic" in a virtual meeting with lawmakers. Khamenei urged all citizens to "play their part in the best way to break the chain of transmission in the short term and save the country." 

On July 14, Anushirvan Mohseni Bandpay, the governor of Tehran Province, reimposed a week-long lockdown after a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The new restrictions, made in coordination with the National Coronavirus Task Force, shutdown all universities, schools, seminaries, libraries, theaters, museums, ceremony halls, barbershops, beauty salons, mosques, cafeterias, coffee shops, zoos, amusement parks, indoor swimming pools, and fitness centers. Bandpay also declared a ban on social, cultural and religious gatherings.

Health Ministry spokesman Sima Sadat Lari announced that 12 provinces had been declared "red zones" due to high rates of COVID-19 infections. Previously, Lari had only categorized nine provinces as red. The updated list of red provinces included Khuzestan, West Azarbaijan, East Azarbaijan, Khorasan Razavi, Zanjan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Golestan, Hormozgan, Ilam, Bushehr, and Mazandaran. 

Mahmoud Abbasi, the Deputy Justice Minister for Human Rights and International Affairs, said that anyone who had knowingly spread COVID-19 should be hanged. "Someone who is fully aware of his infection and without wearing a mask sneezes and coughs…spreads the coronavirus to others and ultimately causes their death. This means deliberate murder and is subject to Qisas," Abbasi told a local news website. 

On July 15, Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced that Iran would begin producing Remdesivir, an antiviral agent proven to treat COVID-19, by next week. Namaki said that Iran had previously relied on humanitarian imports to receive the drug.

On July 16, Reza Jalili-Khoshnood, a senior official on Tehran’s anti-coronavirus task force, warned that the country was facing a shortage of medical staff and beds. He said that 172 medical personnel had been infected at Tehran’s Shohada hospital alone.

Iran’s Friday Prayers Committee announced that Friday prayers were cancelled in Tehran due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the city. Prayers were allowed to continue in provinces deemed “white zones” due to low numbers of infections.

On July 18, President Rouhani said that 25 million Iranians may have been infected with COVID-19, based on a new Ministry of Health study. “Our estimate is that so far 25 million Iranians have been infected with this virus and about 14,000 have lost their lives,” Rouhani said. “There is the possibility that between 30 and 35 million more people will be at risk.”

President Rouhani said that the country’s COVID-19 outbreak likely started in Qom and Gilan provinces, where people who had traveled to Wuhan, China spread the virus to students and tourists. He blamed the second wave of infections on the public’s refusal to adhere to government-imposed health protocols.

The governor of Khuzestan announced that 22 cities in the southwestern province would be placed under a three-day lockdown to stem the spread of the virus. Khuzestan had some of the highest rates of infections and deaths in the country.

 

Week 8: July 19 – 25

On July 19, Turkey suspended all flights to Iran due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases. The Turkish government did not provide a timeline on when flights between the two countries would resume.

On July 21, Iran recorded 229 new deaths from COVID-19, the largest one-day increase in deaths since the country reported its first deaths in February.

On July 22, Iran unveiled the domestic production of two drugs, “Remdesivir” and “Favipiravir,” to help treat COVID-19 patients. “We will supply the first localized production of antiviral ‘Remdesivir’ medicine at the market next week ,” Health Minister Namaki said during a videoconference. “Favipiravir production has also entered the Iranian pharmaceutical market accordingly.”

On July 23, Health Minister Namaki told the World Health Organization (WHO) that Iranian scientists were making progress in developing a COVID-19 vaccine. It “passed the initial tests and (we) hope to reach promising stages,” Namaki said in a virtual WHO meeting.

On July 24, Iraq reopened the Khosravi border crossing with Iran after four months of closure due to COVID-19. “Iranian goods can be transported to Iraq through this border” without restrictions, said Ruhollah Latifi, the spokesman of Iran’s Customs Administration.

Abbas Mousavi Motlaq, the holy city of Qom’s Friday Prayer Imam, said that COVID-19 was a “secular virus” that was corrupting religious countries. “With its destructive effects coronavirus is trying to lead religious countries astray, and toward atheism,” Motlaq said. He added that people should only follow the guidance of religious experts for upcoming Muslim religious ceremonies.

 

Week 9: July 26 – August 1

On July 25, President Rouhani urged citizens to be cautious during celebrations for the Islamic holiday of Eid al Adha, which starts at the end of the month. “Let glorious festivities be held in mosques and religious centers by observing health protocols and social distancing,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. “Let [face] masks this year be part of the glorious mourning of Muharram.” During the Islamic month of Muharram, Shiite Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, who was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680. Deputy Health Minister Harirchi urged people not to travel to the holy city of Mashhad during the festivities. He said that the city had a 300 percent increase in COVID-19 cases in the past month.

In an open letter, Tehran’s Coronavirus Task Force asked Health Minister Namaki to allow half of the city’s government employees to work remotely. Under current protocols, only one-third of Tehran’s government employees were permitted to work remotely. 

On July 26, Anoushirvan Mohseni Bandpey, the governor of Tehran province, warned that the lack of public transportation infrastructure and services had led to an increase in cases in Tehran. He urged citizens to stay home as much as possible and avoiding taking public transit. “We are gravely concerned about Tehran. We need to continue to impose restrictions and supervise the implementation of coronavirus-related protocols to control the situation,” Bandpey told IRNA news agency.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari called on the public to follow health protocols to ease pressure on exhausted medical workers. “Our biggest concerns are the infection and fatigue of medical staff,” Lari said in her daily briefing. “We can help them and prevent the spread of the disease” by following their guidelines.

On July 27, Iranian state media announced that government spokesman Ali Rabiei had tested positive for COVID-19. Rabiei had reportedly been hospitalized but was in good condition, according to Mehr news agency.

Habibollah Sayyari, the Deputy Coordinator of Iran's Army, called on the country to continue efforts to contain the virus. “More than 12,000 Army personnel are now active in different healthcare sections, including hospitals and laboratories, to contain the pandemic,” Sayyari said during a news conference.

On July 28, Iran recorded 235 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest daily death total since the outbreak began. Arash Anisian, the director of the private Ebnesina Hospital in Tehran, warned that nearly 20 percent of the emergency ward staff and 40 percent of supervisors had contracted the virus. “Replacement under such difficult conditions is very hard. We have to pay more to our personnel, for longer hours and for hardship of the job,” Anisian told The Wall Street Journal. “But we cannot charge patients more. So our hospital is under extreme financial pressure.”

Health Minister Namaki said that Iran’s progress in developing a homegrown vaccine was on par with other advanced countries. “We don’t want to make delusional comments and don’t want to say that the vaccine would be available to the public until autumn,” Namaki said at a ministry meeting. “Today, we can only say that we are not lagging behind many in the world who claim to have produced the vaccine.”

Foreign Minister Zarif said that the COVID-19 pandemic will significinatly alter the world order. “Throughout history, the old order has collapsed and been replaced with a new one after widespread bloodshed,” Zarif said at a conference in Tehran. “I believe that absolute Western approaches have failed to provide us with a true understanding of global events. The modern international order will not be totally Western anymore.”

On July 30, former parliament speaker Ali Larijani tested positive for COVID-19 for a second time, according to state media. Larijani was reportedly in good condition under quarantine in a hospital in Tehran.

President Rouhani announced that most Iranian provinces were past the peak of the pandemic. “All Iranian provinces, except two, are leaving behind the coronavirus peak,” Rouhani said in a videoconference. “The correct methods have been applied across the country in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic."

Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabayee accused Britain of “hijacking” mask shipments paid for by Iran. “The British government took hold of 3 million masks purchased by Iran in the first week of the coronavirus outbreak and did not deliver them to Iran, while Iran had already paid their price,” Janbabayee said during a government meeting in Arak, according to Fars News Agency.

On July 31, Amnesty International published four leaked official letters from Iranian prison officials, which purportedly revealed the Iranian regime had “ignored pleas by senior officials” for additional resources to treat the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons. “These official letters provide damning evidence of the government’s failure to protect prisoners. Urgent requests for resources have been ignored for months,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Overcrowding, poor ventilation, lack of basic sanitation and medical equipment, and deliberate neglect of prisoners’ health problems, are making Iranian prisons a perfect breeding ground for COVID-19. The Iranian authorities must stop denying the health crisis in Iran’s prisons and take urgent steps to protect prisoners’ health and lives.”

On August 1, President Rouhani announced a nationwide ban on all public gatherings for a week. “Until further notice, all gatherings, including weddings, wakes and parties, are banned. This is no longer provincial; it is nationwide, until there is a change in the situation,” Rouhani said in a press statement. He also called on local authorities to prosecute those who violate health protocols. “There is no doubt that we need to take action against violators of health measures,” Rouhani said. “Until the day the Health Ministry announces the availability of a vaccine, we need to observe the rules and continue enforcing strict measures.”

 

Week 10: August 2 – 8

On August 1, a BBC Persian investigation found the number of deaths from COVID-19 could be three times what the government has reported. An anonymous source provided government documents that showed that nearly 42,000 people had died with COVID-19 symptoms as of July 20. But the health ministry reported that only 14,405 had died by the same date. “BBC can confirm that the lists include the names and details of individuals who have either died of COVID-19 or with similar symptoms or visited health centers or were hospitalized due to confirmed COVID-19 or similar symptoms,” the news agency said. The source reportedly told BBC that they shared the data to “shed light on truth” and to end “political games” over the epidemic.

On August 3, state television revealed that, on average, one Iranian was dying from COVID-19 every seven minutes.

On August 4, Ali Asghar Mounesan, Iran’s tourism minister, said that the threat of coronavirus should not bring tourism to a complete halt. “Corona is a fact, but can the virus stop tourism? Certainly not. For us, the coronavirus is a new experience in dealing with crises that teaches tourism experts around the world how to deal with such a disaster, and thankfully governments are turning this into an opportunity for better planning,” Mounesan told ISNA. “Tourism experts will certainly find a way to deal with this great crisis.

Dr. Christoph Hamelmann, the World Health Organization Representative in Iran, praised Iran’s medical system but warned against overtaxing health workers. “In recent decades, Iran has attained many achievements in the production of medical equipment and medicine. Such progress is now helping the country manage the coronavirus pandemic,” Hamelmann told IRNA. “However, the incessant work of healthcare workers has made them exhausted. This is a serious problem that should be resolved.”

On August 5, Alireza Salimi, the deputy for education and research of Iran’s Medical Council, said that the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 during the next few months was unachievable. “The only thing in our power is to break the chain of transmission, plan for the continuation of the cycle of life and minimize the death rate,” Salimi said.

On August 8, President Rouhani urged officials to find a balance between stringent restrictions and a complete reopening of the country. “We must follow a moderate path because it is not possible to continue with severe restrictions,” the president told officials at a National Coronavirus Taskforce meeting. “We cannot completely shut down economic, educational and cultural activities, even if these activities cannot be the same as before coronavirus. We have no choice but to continue with our activities, but to also follow health protocols completely.”

 

Week 11: August 9 – 15

On August 9, President Rouhani announced that the nationwide state of emergency due to the pandemic would remain in effect until at least January 2021. “We have been in this situation for six months and we must prepare ourselves for another six months at least,” Rohani said in a statement on his website. “We must find a middle way between normality and sticking to the virus restrictions.”

Mohammad Qasemi, the director for marketing and advertising at Iran’s Ministry of Tourism, said that Tehran was developing all-inclusive health protocols for foreign tourists. He added that new regulations would help bolster tourism in the long run by stemming the spread of the virus.

On August 10, Iran shut down Jahane Sanat, a daily newspaper, for publishing an interview with an epidemiologist who said the government tally of COVID-19 cases and deaths only accounted for five percent of the actual toll. “There was no transparent flow of information...The government only provided engineered figures...over concerns about (its impact) on the election and the commemorations of the revolution anniversary,” Mahboubfar said in the interview. Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari rejected the claim and said that the ministry had always provided figures in a “transparent” manner. “The Health Ministry is not a political body and health of people is its main priority,” she added.

On August 11, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported that 12 political prisoners in Evin Prison -- including prominent labor leaders Esmail Abdi and Jafar Azimzadeh, human rights lawyer Amirsalar Davouudi and journalist Majid Azarpey--had tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak in Evin's Ward 8 started in late July, according to Abdi's wife, Mounir. The infected prisoners were reportedly admitted to the prison clinic where they were being monitored. "By keeping political prisoners in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons where they are denied medical care and are not separated from ill prisoners, the Iranian authorities are condemning these individuals to COVID-19 and possible death," said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of CHRI.

Esmaeil Mousavi, the spokesman for Iran’s Elections Headquarters, announced that all campaigning for the second round of parliamentary elections would be conducted virtually. Mousavi said that the elections would proceed as scheduled on September 11 after they were postponed in mid-April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that voting would be held in “open spaces” to stem the spread of the virus.

On August 14, Dr. Alireza Zali, the head of the Tehran Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, said that the government had made a “strategic mistake” by relying on citizens to observe social distancing guidelines.  During a press conference, he criticized the government for lifting restrictions and lockdowns prematurely. “The effectiveness of the government actions will be affected if public trust is marred for any reason,” Zali added.

On August 15, President Rouhani introduced a long-term plan for combating the COVID-19 pandemic. He announced that 10,000 additional hospital beds and 2,000 ICU beds would be prepared by March 2021. Rouhani also said that the government would allocate a budget to the education sector to develop better online learning platforms.  

 

Week 12: August 16 – 22

On August 17, Iranian Minister of Tourism Ali Asghar Mounesan said that the country’s tourism industry had lost $2.85 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On August 18, Dr. Alireza Zali, the head of the Tehran Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, called for a two-week extension of lockdown restrictions in Tehran. “Despite an 11 percent decline in suspected Covid-19 patients visiting hospitals, Tehran Province is still on red alert,” Zali said in a press conference.

Iran said that it would wait for the approval of the World Health Organization before buying Russia’s coronavirus vaccine. “In order for the vaccine to be used, genuine and independent organizations such as the World Health Organization must comment on it and approve it, which has not happened yet,” Dr. Zali said at a press conference in Tehran.

On August 19, Iranian students began a four-day national university entrance exam. Nearly 1.4 million students were expected to take the exam in testing centers across the country, despite warnings from health officials over the past month. Participants were provided with hygiene packs and were required to sit at least 1.8 meters (6 feet) apart. The  National Organization for Educational Testing dispatched 7,300 health experts to monitor the exams and ensure health protocols were followed. Dr. Zali said all testing centers would be regularly disinfected.

On August 21, worshippers began rituals for the Islamic holy month of Muharram, including mourning ceremonies commemorating the killing of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Hussein. The National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce banned annual marches, musical performances and banquets, and all indoor ceremonies. Masks and social distancing were required for participants at outdoor venues.

On August 22, Mehdi Saadati, chairman of the parliamentary caucus of representatives from Mazandaran province, a common destination for Muharram holiday travelers, demanded the imposition of travel restrictions between Tehran and Mazandaran. “Ignoring the current situation and allowing people of the capital to freely travel to Mazandaran during the weekend will spread infections of this deadly virus among the people,” Saadati warned during a parliamentary session.

Health Minister Namaki said that 164 health professionals had died from COVID-19. In July, Namaki had announced that at least 12,000 healthcare workers had contracted the virus.

Head of Iran’s Export Confederation Mohammad Lahouti said that non-oil exports had declined by 39 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  “The president has announced a reduction of 10 percent in the country's economic dependence on oil, which is unprecedented,” Lahouti said in an interview with Tasnim new agency. “A country, which for years relied solely on the oil, is now facing conditions that have forced it to break its dependence on oil and to move toward a non-oil economy.” U.S. sanctions, reimposed in 2018, have severely curtailed Iran’s ability to sell oil.

Iran resumed flights to the Iraqi city of Basra. It was the first flight between the two countries since mid-March.

 

Week 13: August 23 – 29

On August 23, President Rouhani said that Iran’s economy had only shrunk by three percent during the COVID-19 pandemic. He praised the country’s resilience, adding that other countries’ economies decreased by up to 20 percent.  

Nahid Khodakarami, a member of Tehran’s city council, said that 10,200 residents of Tehran had died from coronavirus since February. He warned that Muharram mourning ceremonies could cause a third wave of the virus.

The Ministry of Health said that all foreign national infected with COVID-19 had received free medical treatment in Iran. Iran had spent nearly $95 million in medical expenses for registered foreigners since the pandemic began, according to Shahnam Arshi, the deputy director for infectious diseases management at the Ministry of Health.

On August 24, Iranian Tourism Minister Ali Asghar Mounesan said that “people’s health is our first priority.” He added that the Ministry of Tourism was coordinating with the Ministry of Health to implement safe travel guidelines. “The medical staff in the country is working very hard, God forbid, their efforts should not be ignored,” he said during a press conference.

On August 25, Health Minister Namaki warned against public complacency during the Islamic holy month of Muharram. “I am asking people not to pack bags and hopscotch around the country just because their children are done with university entrance exams,” Namaki said in a press conference. “If citizens travel again, we should expect the resurgence of the virus one week after the holidays,” Tehran Governor Anoushirvan Mohsen Bandpey added.

On August 26, Iran’s Central Taskforce for Coordinating Travel Services announced that travel and tourism would be permitted during the Muharram holiday season despite warnings from health officials. “All tourist facilities and the taskforce’s member establishments that provide travel services must be ready to offer their best and complete services in these days,” deputy minister of tourism Vali Teymouri said in a statement.

On August 29, Health Minister Namaki blamed the “ignorance and nonchalance” of holiday travelers for putting the country’s medical workers at risk. “I wish I had the power, authority, instruments or assistance beyond begging, requesting and pleading,” Namaki said during a press conference.

 

Week 14: August 30 – September 6

On August 30, thousands of worshippers gathered across Iran to celebrate the holiday of Ashura, an annual day of mourning for Shiite Muslims. Indoor rituals were banned, and the government required all participants in outdoor ceremonies to wear masks and practice social distancing. President Rouhani praised the mourners for observing health protocols but expressed concern with a spike in holiday travel. “Those who have travelled during the recent holidays should not allow their non-compliance with protocols to cause a new escalation of the COVID-19 outbreak and negatively affect the hard work of the medical staff,” Rouhani said during a meeting with the Ministers of Health and the Interior.

Deputy Health Minister Ghasem Jan-Babaei criticized holiday travelers vacationing in Iran’s northern provinces. “Health workers are doing everything in their power to serve the people but they are exhausted because some disregard the [coronavirus] guidelines,” Jan-Babaei said. “More serious action must be taken against those who travel regardless of the guidance. But this is not the Health Ministry’s job and authorities in other areas must enforce the restrictions.”

President Rouhani informed the Ministry of Health that Iran planned to purchase trial vaccines developed by foreign countries. Rouhani added that Iran would conduct its own tests and trials of the vaccines before distributing them to the population.  

On August 31, Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei announced that schools in high-risk regions, which included 13 of Iran’s 31 provinces, would not be allowed to reopen until rates of COVID-19 dropped.  “Even if students do not have access to television, we will prepare learning packages and pursue education via contact with teachers,” Mirzaei said in a press conference. “Some 35 percent of nationwide classes, where social distancing is possible, will return to normal while following safety rules.”

The Administrative and Recruitment Affairs Organization of Iran issued a policy for reprimanding government employees who ignore health protocols in the workplace. Upon a first violation, employees would receive a written warning. After a second offense, employees would be issued a citation to be documented in their employer’s records. If the employee commits a third violation, he or she would receive a one-third cut in salary for that month.

On September 3, Health Minister Namaki announced the creation of a vaccine development committee. Namaki said that Dr. Mohammad Mahdi Gooya, the head of the Health Ministry's Communicable Diseases Center, would lead the committee, which would incluce health experts from the public and private sectors.

On September 5, schools reopened in Iran to 15 million students after seven months of closure due to the coronavirus. Students were required to follow strict health protocols, including social distancing, wearing masks, and temperature checks. “School is an environment. We cannot bring that environment to homes with applications [software]; the right path for education has been chosen,” President Rouhani said during a press conference. “This year, teachers should educate, keep schools safe, preserve the health of children and improve learning skills.”

President Rouhani criticized the international community for not shielding Iran from U.S. sanctions during the pandemic. “Over the past months since the coronavirus arrived in our country... no one came to our help,” Rouhani said on state television. If the United States “had a bit of humanity and brain,” it would have offered to “lift the sanctions for a year because of the coronavirus.”

On September 6, Mohammad Reza Zafarqandi, the head of Iran’s Medical Council, blasted the Ministry of Education’s decision to reopen schools. It will “no doubt lead to an increased burden on the country's medical workers,” Zafarqandi said in an open letter. “When an epidemic hit, schools are the first places that should be closed and the last to be reopened.”

 

Week 15: September 7 – September 13

On September 7, Education Minister Mohsen Haji Mirzaei stipulated that students were “not obliged” to attend in-person classes after heavy criticism from health experts. “From the beginning, we said that students' presence at schools is not mandatory,” Mirzaei said. “We said that our priority is face-to-face education, which is more appropriate for several reasons.”

Masoud Babaei, an official from the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare, said that 850,000 Iranians had lost their jobs between February and August due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In specific industries: 59 percent of jobs in the service industry were lost, while 31 percent of jobs in the industrial sector impacted.

On September 11, Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced that Arbaeen - the Shiite religious holiday commemorating the death of Imam Hussein - would be held virtually.

On September 12, Iran said that Tehran University would start human trials to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. Animal trials were complete and preparations were being made for clinical trials, Agricultural Minister Kazem Khavazi said.  

On September 13,  First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri ordered the tourism ministry to develop a plan to reboot Iran's tourism sector. The pandemic had caused "abundant financial losses" for Iran's tourism industry, but Jahangiri acknowledged that the ministry should implement its plan to reopen as soon as possible

On September 11, Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced that Arbaeen - the Shiite religious holiday commemorating the death of Imam Hussein - would be held virtually. Namaki called for the creation of a joint committee with Iraq's ministry of health to figure out a detailed plan for Arbaeen. 

On September 12, Iran said that Tehran University would start human trials to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. Iranian Agricultural Minister Kazem Khavazi said that animal trials had completed and that preparations were being made for clinical trials.  

On September 13,  First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri ordered the tourism ministry to develop a plan to reboot Iran's tourism sector. Jahangiri acknowledged that the pandemic had caused "abundant financial losses" for Iran's tourism industry but said that the ministry should implement its plan to reopen as soon as possible. 

 

Week 16: September 14 – September 20

On September 14, Iran recorded the highest daily rise in COVID-19 fatalities since mid-August. More than 150 patients died in a single day, which put the overall official death toll at 23,313. 

On September 17,  Rouhani pledged to add 10,000 beds to hospitals across the country before March 2021. The beds would distributed to hospitals to seven provinces -- in Tehran, East Azerbaijan, Esfahan, Sistan and Baluchestan, Kurdistan, Mazandaran and Gilan.

On September 18, Iran's health ministry issued a coronavirus red alert for the entire country because of a new spike in cases. “We no longer have orange and yellow,” Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said on national television. “The entire country is red.” Harirchi warned that the death toll could reach 45,000 if fatalities continued at the same rate.

On September 18, the Tehran Stock Exchange experienced growth for the first time in five consecutive weeks.

On September 19, Iran’s health minister said that Tehran would purchase 20 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine from an Indian company. Iran had negotiated a “lower and more reasonable price” for the vaccine, Namaki claimed.

On September 20, the banking sector loaned more than $1 billion to private sector business impacted by the coronavirus over a six-week period, the governor of Iran’s Central Bank said

 

Week 17: September 21 – September 27

On September 22, the health ministry reported an all-time high of new COVID-19 infections. More than 3,700 new cases were identified within 24 hours, which was the highest daily increase since the pandemic erupted in February.

On September 22, Iran cancelled public processions for the Shiite holiday of Arbaeen. The government discouraged Iranians from traveling to the holy city of Karbala Ali Rabiei for the Arbaeen pilgrimage. In turn, Iraq said that no Iranian pilgrims would be allowed to cross the border this year.

On September 23, President Rouhani blasted the United States for maintaining sanctions on Iran during COVID-19 pandemic. “My nation, the resilient people of Iran, instead of enjoying global partnership and cooperation, is grappling with the harshest sanctions in history,” he said, during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly.

On September 24, the official death toll from the novel coronavirus was more than 25,000, the health ministry reported.

On September 25, Iran and Russia discussed jointly developing a COVID-19 vaccine. “Iran has great potential to produce the vaccine,” said Kazem Jalali, the Iranian ambassador to Moscow.

On September 26, Rouhani authorized provincial lockdowns to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases. basis. Governors were empowered to implement one-week lockdowns of schools, universities, mosques, cafeterias and other public places.

 

Week 18: September 28 – October 4

On September 29, Iran's coronavirus cases exceeded 450,000. The death toll reached nearly 26,000.

On September 30, Rouhani praised the establishment of a joint Iranian-Denmark medical and pharmaceutical center in Tehran. International cooperation during the pandemic is a " very important event," Rouhani said. 

On October 1,  Iran was ready to work with China on joint production of a coronavirus vaccine, Rouhani said

On October 3, Iran closed schools, libraries and mosques in Tehran for a week to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. President Rouhani said that the government would fine those who violated health protocols. 

 

 

Updated