Second wave of COVID-19 infections hits in Iran
Tehran: Iran reported its highest number of daily coronavirus infections in two months, a surge that nears March's peak levels and suggests the Middle Eastern country struck hardest by the disease is in the throes of a second wave.
Authorities reported 3,134 new cases on Wednesday, a 50% increase from a week earlier, according to official government figures. The total number of cases so far is 160,696, including more than 8,000 deaths.
"More serious compliance with physical distancing and more serious and smarter use of masks is an absolute necessity in the days ahead," Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said in an interview with Iranian state TV news. His warning echoes the alarm expressed by government physicians over the increased number of virus-related hospitalizations in the capital, Tehran.
Iran began relaxing lockdown measures in early April to buoy a virus-battered economy already weakened by sanctions the US refuses to ease in the face of the health crisis. At that time, the total number of cases was 70,029.
The outbreak forced Iran to apply for an International Monetary Fund loan for the first time since 1960, triggered a major sell-off of state assets, and led authorities to issue domestic debt.
A businessman who works in the conference industry said authorities were also to blame for the recent rise in cases.
"The government should provide the infrastructure to educate people on coronavirus and at the same time, people should observe measures more responsibly," said Ali, giving only his first name because of the sensitivities of speaking to foreign media. "People haven't quite understood the gravity of the matter."
Nine of Iran's 31 provinces are now considered "red zones" or carry a virus alert warning, Jahanpur said.
They include the border provinces of Khuzestan, in Iran's oil-rich, Arabic-speaking southwest, and Sistan-Baluchestan in the southeast, which borders both Afghanistan and Pakistan and is home to a significant minority Sunni population. Khorasan Razavi province, seat of a revered Shiite shrine, and Iran's West and East Azerbajian provinces, which border Turkey, Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, have also seen cases swell, Jahanpur said.