Iran at breaking point as it fights third wave of coronavirus

a man that is standing in the street: Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

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Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

Iran, the crucible of coronavirus in the Middle East, smashed two grim records this week, reporting its largest number of deaths in a single 24 hours since the outbreak started in March, and the largest number of new infections.

Iranian health officials openly admit Iran is deep into its third, and biggest, wave of the disease, and evidence suggests an exhausted and impoverished country is struggling to cope as trust in government diminishes, sanctions weaken the economy and hospitals report overcrowded intensive care units.

Mohammad Talebpour, the director of Sina hospital, the oldest in Tehran, predicted that if Iranians did not collectively take action and the disease persisted for another 18 months, as many as 300,000 could die. He said a third of the medical staff at his hospital had at one point contracted the disease.

a man holding a sign: A police officer wearing a face mask works on a street in Tehran, Iran.

© Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock
A police officer wearing a face mask works on a street in Tehran, Iran.

Covid-19 has so far killed 29,070 Iranians, according to widely challenged official statistics, including 254 on Wednesday alone, just down on the daily record set on 12 October of 272.

The number of people newly infected in the previous 24 hours was recorded as 4,108 on Wednesday, just down on the record of 4,392 on 8 October.

In an attempt to force reluctant Iranians to abide by social distancing rules, including the compulsory wearing of face masks in public, Hassan Rouhani’s government has introduced fines of up to $6.60, initially in Tehran.

Businesses face fines that could rise to $30 on the third offence. Since the monthly minimum wage is worth less than $60 after a sharp fall in the value of the currency, these fines are not trivial, but even so the health minister, Saeed Namaki, said he feared they would not be high enough to act as a deterrent.

Masks have been compulsory in indoor public spaces since July.

But Rouhani is an innately cautious centrist, nervous of a public backlash, and concerned by the state of the economy now predicted by the International Monetary Fund to contract by 5% this year. The government spokesman Ali Rabiei stressed on Tuesday that the fines were “a tool to achieve compliance, and not a goal in itself. The fine is a warning to exercise self-discipline”. He insisted all the income from the fines would go to the ministry of health to fight coronavirus.

No one knows if the fines will be rigorously imposed, or the punishment likely to be inflicted on those unable to pay. The police, the Basij paramilitary force and health inspectors will have powers to impose the fines, and offenders will have two weeks to make payment into a health ministry account,

But the much-criticised sight of Iranian police this week parading criminals on the back of trucks is a reminder, if needed, of the methods security services can deploy.

Iran has not hidden the disputes between officials over its handling of the crisis.

Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi,

Iran says new U.S. sanctions target ‘remaining channels to pay for food, medicine’

FILE PHOTO: Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference following a meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia September 24, 2020. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of targeting Iran’s “remaining channels to pay for food and medicine” in the midst of the pandemic through new sanctions announced on Thursday.

The United States slapped fresh sanctions on Iran’s financial sector, targeting 18 Iranian banks in an effort to further shut Iran out of the global banking system as Washington ramps up pressure on Tehran weeks ahead of the U.S. election.

“Amid Covid 19 pandemic, U.S. regime wants to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food & medicine,” Zarif said on Twitter. “But conspiring to starve a population is a crime against humanity.”

Iranian Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati dismissed the new sanctions as propaganda linked to U.S. domestic politics.

“Rather than having any economic effect, the American move is for U.S. domestic propaganda and political purposes, and shows the falsity of the human rights and humanitarian claims of U.S. leaders,” Hemmati said in a statement posted on the central bank’s website.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a tweet of being behind the new sanctions in a move to “lure (U.S. President Donald) Trump into doubling down on inhumane targeting of ordinary Iranians”.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Pullin

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U.S. Sanctions Deny Us Food and Medicine Mid-Pandemic, Iran Foreign Minister Says

Iran’s foreign minister has accused the U.S of “conspiring to starve a population” during the coronavirus pandemic with its fresh round of sanctions that are expected to hit its economy hard.

Mohammad Javad Zarif sitting in front of a screen: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, the regional capital in northern Iraq, on July 19, 2020. He has blamed the U.S. of denying Iranians food and medicine.

© SAFIN HAMED/Getty Images
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Arbil, the regional capital in northern Iraq, on July 19, 2020. He has blamed the U.S. of denying Iranians food and medicine.

The comments by Mohammad Javad Zarif come after the U.S. slapped fresh sanctions on the financial sector of the Islamic republic targeting 18 banks and further isolating the country from the global banking sector.

The measures by the U.S. come days before a United Nations arms embargo on the country is set to expire and threaten to effectively lock Iran out of the global financial system, with possibly dire consequences for its currency, the rial, and its economy.

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary said in a statement that the latest sanctions aimed to cut off Tehran’s “illicit access to U.S. dollars,” and tough measures would continue “until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programmes.”

But Zarif condemned the move, tweeting: “Amid Covid19 pandemic, U.S. regime wants to blow up our remaining channels to pay for food & medicine. Iranians WILL survive this latest of cruelties.”

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