Tehran re­opens as eco­nomic hard­ship trumps virus risks

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

TEHRAN: Iran al­lowed some shut­tered Tehran busi­nesses to reopen Satur­day de­spite the Mid­dle East’s dead­li­est coro­n­avirus out­break, as many faced a bit­ter choice be­tween risk­ing in­fec­tion and eco­nomic ruin. Top of­fi­cials ar­gue that Iran’s sanc­tions-hit econ­omy can­not af­ford to re­main on lock­down, and ap­proved sim­i­lar mea­sures in other provinces last week. There was a “sig­nif­i­cant” uptick in high­way use on Satur­day, ac­cord­ing to Tehran’s traffic po­lice chief, who told state TV that some anti-con­ges­tion mea­sures had been lifted to dis­cour­age use of pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

Some Tehran res­i­dents said they were con­cerned about the out­break but had to go back to work as their liveli­hoods de­pended on it. “I don’t think it’s safe yet,” said Reza Ja­fari, a sales­man at a hand­bag whole­saler in the cap­i­tal. “But I had to get back to work for fi­nan­cial rea­sons. If I had the op­tion I wouldn’t, but if the shop re­mains closed longer we could get laid off.” Ja­fari, speak­ing by tele­phone, said re­tail­ers from other provinces had flocked to the store on Satur­day to re­fresh their stocks, and that most shop­keep­ers and cus­tomers did not wear masks or gloves.

At the nearby Grand Bazaar, many shop­keep­ers sat on the steps of closed stalls, say­ing they were not al­lowed to reopen un­til May 1. They protested what they saw as a dou­ble stan­dard, with shops out­side the bazaar work­ing while they re­main barred from re­open­ing. “How can I stay keep stay­ing home? My fam­ily is hun­gry,” said Ham­dol­lah Mah­moudi, 45, a shop worker in the bazaar. “And one gets men­tally sick with­out work”. Morteza, 30, said he was un­able to open his stall de­spite pres­sure from cred­i­tors. “This is the sec­ond stage of coro­n­avirus for me,” he said. “I would be bet­ter off dead now.”

‘Smart so­cial dis­tanc­ing’

Hit by an out­break of the COVID-19 ill­ness that has now killed over 5,000 peo­ple and in­fected over 80,000 ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures, Iran shut down all non-es­sen­tial eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in mid-March. Some abroad and many in­side Iran, in­clud­ing of­fi­cials and health ex­perts, have said the ca­su­alty fig­ures may be higher than the of­fi­cial count. But author­i­ties now ar­gue it is pos­si­ble to bat­tle the virus and reopen the econ­omy at the same time with “smart so­cial dis­tanc­ing” mea­sures.

Busi­nesses seek­ing to reopen have to reg­is­ter on­line with the health min­istry and then re­ceive guide­lines for stay­ing safe. They are then given a QR code to print and show to of­fi­cials in­spect­ing their premises, said Ja­fari, adding that he had reg­is­tered. But he said he was skep­ti­cal of­fi­cials could en­force san­i­tary guide­lines, say­ing shop­keep­ers would don masks tem­po­rar­ily then re­lax when in­spec­tors leave.

‘Forced to go back’

The de­ci­sion to reopen “low-risk” busi­nesses has drawn crit­i­cism from health ex­perts and even some gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, but Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani has in­sisted “there is no other way”. Iran’s econ­omy has been bat­tered by Wash­ing­ton’s reim­po­si­tion of crip­pling sanc­tions since 2018 - a sit­u­a­tion com­pounded by plum­met­ing global oil prices and shrink­ing tax rev­enues as the coro­n­avirus lock­down took hold. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund, the Ira­nian econ­omy shrank by 7.6 per­cent in 2019 and is ex­pected to con­tract a fur­ther 6 per­cent this year.

Small re­tail­ers were hit par­tic­u­larly hard as the pan­demic over­shad­owed the Ira­nian New Year shop­ping sea­son. But on Satur­day, an AFP re­porter saw an up­town cloth­ing bou­tique do­ing a brisk trade, with masked and gloved as­sis­tants at­tend­ing to cus­tomers with­out pro­tec­tive gear. Pho­tos pub­lished by ISNA news agency showed crowds of peo­ple with­out masks crowd­ing gov­ern­ment of­fices in Tehran, re­port­edly to sign up for state loans. A bank clerk said her branch in north­ern Tehran had re­ceived more cus­tomers on Satur­day than in re­cent weeks, mostly busi­ness­men.

But Tehran res­i­dents in­ter­viewed by AFP talked both of eco­nomic dis­tress and fear of catch­ing the virus. “Ev­ery­one were hop­ing for good sales this year, and now they’ve hit a brick wall,” said op­tometrist Kawan Ghane, who owns an eye­wear shop in the city. The 36-year old said he has not re­opened yet, un­sure whether cus­tomers will come and fear­ful of in­fec­tion. “It’s very scary ex­am­in­ing some­one, up close, who might be in­fected,” he said. “But I’m forced to even­tu­ally go back be­cause of my fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion.”

Iran’s death toll from the new coro­n­avirus has risen by 87 to 5,118, health min­istry spokesman Kianush Ja­han­pur said in a state­ment on state TV yes­ter­day. The to­tal num­ber of in­fected cases in the Is­lamic Repub­lic has reached 82,211, he said. Iran has ex­tended fur­loughs for pris­on­ers for an­other month, Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani said yes­ter­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.