Iran slowly reopens virus, curbs-hit economy

Middle East Desk

Tehran: Iran allowed small businesses outside the capital to reopen Saturday, arguing the sanctions-hit economy in the country with the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East cannot stay in lockdown.
Iranians in several provinces reported a significant increase in cars on the roads as people went back to work, as some said the government’s relaxation of measures was sending mixed messages. Some government employees are allowed to work from home but many still have to show up at offices. “People are confused, they don’t know what to do. It’s neither a complete shutdown nor an actual reopening,” Reza Mirabizadeh, a software engineer from Isfahan, central Iran, told AFP by telephone.
“When they implement tough measures people are more careful and only come out with masks and gloves,” he said. “But the more it goes on and such things are announced, people get careless, thinking it’s not that serious.” With Esfahan’s metro closed over the outbreak, traffic was noticeably higher on Saturday morning as people began their commute, he said.
The respiratory disease has so far killed over 4,300 people and infected more than 70,000 in the Islamic republic, with some speculating abroad that real tolls could be higher. Authorities have scrambled to contain the outbreak by shutting schools and universities as well as cinemas, stadiums and revered Shiite Muslim shrines.
The decision to reopen “low-risk” businesses has drawn criticism from health experts and even some government officials, but President Hassan Rouhani said: “There is no other way.” Iran’s economy has contracted by 4.8 and 9.5 percent in the past two years, even before the epidemic, according to the International Monetary Fund. Its forecast of zero growth for 2020 now seems unlikely because of the outbreak.