Iran worried more about angering public, less about containing virus

Updated: 27 October, 2020 10:39 IST | Agencies | Dubai

But a day later, he had a vastly different message. "We should not cause panic for people in vain. We should never announce that we don't have empty (hospital) beds. We do have empty beds," Namaki said

Medics tend to a COVID-19 patient at a hospital in Tehran, Iran. Pic/AP
Medics tend to a COVID-19 patient at a hospital in Tehran, Iran. Pic/AP

As COVID-19 infections reached new heights in Iran this month, overwhelming its hospitals and driving up its death toll, the country's health minister gave a rare speech criticising his own government's refusal to enforce basic health measures.

"We asked for fines to be collected from anyone who doesn't wear a mask," Saeed Namaki said last week, referring to the government's new mandate for Tehran. "But go and find out how many people were fined. We said close roads, and yet how many did they close?" He laid the blame for the virus' resurgence at the government's door — a stark contrast to the usual speeches from officials who point the finger at the public's defiance of restrictions.

But a day later, he had a vastly different message. "We should not cause panic for people in vain. We should never announce that we don't have empty (hospital) beds. We do have empty beds," Namaki said.

Experts say the mixed messages reflect the fact that the leadership has little room to impose severe curbs that would damage an already fragile economy — and thus stoke public anger. Over 32,000 people have died in what is the Middle East's worst outbreak — and the true number is likely 2½ times higher. And it shows no signs of abating. In the last week, Iran shattered its daily cases and deaths record.

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First Published: 27 October, 2020 08:35 IST

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