Facing the competing threats of Coronavirus and a crippled Iran economy, President Hassan Rouhani says “low-risk” activity will resume from Saturday.
Rouhani (pictured) declared on Saturday that “social distancing” will become “smart distancing”.
He followed up in a Sunday meeting broadcast on State TV, “Under the supervision of the Health Ministry, all those low-risk economic activities will resume from Saturday.”
The low-risk businesses include printing houses, clothes stores, and bookshops.
He said that 2/3rds of Government employees will continue to work from home, and that the resumption of some activity does not lift stay-at-home advice.
The Health Ministry raised the death toll on Sunday to 3,603, an increase of 151 from the previous day. The number of confirmed cases is 58,226, with more than 4,000 patients in critical condition.
Balancing Economy and Deaths
With Iran’s economy hindered by long-term internal issues and by US sanctions, Rouhani has resisted quarantines and compulsory stay-at-home orders.
He proclaimed in mid-March, even as the death toll was escalating, that the virus “may ease in 2 to 3 weeks”.
But he shifted last week with the announcement that a “major part” of the economy would have to be shut down, and he said on Friday, “Coronavirus may be with us for months to come; maybe by the end of the year.”
Authorities are reportedly facing the defiance of people refusing to adhere to the stay-at-home guidelines, with highways still packed in Iran’s capital Tehran.
So on Saturday, the President declared his “smart distancing”: “Medical protocols have to be designed in a way so that the public can be largely assured of its health and safety by adhering to them outside the house and at work.”
Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi emphasized the dual priorities of safety and maintaining the economy:
One principle is that we are fighting both the coronavirus and sanctions; therefore economic issues have to be considered in the smart distancing strategy….
Our country is fighting on two fronts – the Coronavirus and criminal sanctions – and therefore we need to achieve a balance between both of these goals.