TEHRAN — From open schools in Singapore to newly closed businesses in the U.S., the world is wondering what the safest way back to normalcy might be. Iran is putting this question to the test as many citizens returned to work in early April after the Persian New Year holiday, despite a death toll rising near 4,000 and open risks of a "second wave."

Despite the risks, President Hassan Rouhani has called reopen a portion of business activities on Wednesday, citing the need to "move the wheel of the economy." The Tehran task force charged with fighting the virus adamantly disagrees with Rouhani's choice: "Not only have we not reached the phase of controlling this virus, but it is increasing." Rouhani, on the other hand, believes that "smart social distancing" will be a sufficient protective measure.

Yet the government was late to put social distancing to action, only officially implementing it on March 27 as death tolls already soared. Once in place, the restrictions were loosely enforced, with Iranian news agency ISNA showing a fairly crowded Tehran metro on April 4th, with only some users wearing face masks. The London-based Kayhan newspaper attributed this partial compliance to officials' "contradictory" positions on confinement as well as people's fear of losing their jobs. One Twitter user, Delvar, claimed ordinary workers had to go out and work while "the mullahs hide away in their villas." Authorities, instead, have blamed private companies. The government's coronavirus coordinator in greater Tehran, Alireza Zali, told the Fars news agency too many businesses are not "cooperating" with the official recommendations to work from home, and pressure employees to return to the office.


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