Al-Monitor
Founded by Jamal Daniel in 2012, Al-Monitor features reporting and analysis by prominent journalists and experts from the Middle East and North Africa.
Members of the Iranian Red Crescent's Volunteers Organization in the Hameh Sin mountain village in Eastern Tehran, Iran, sanitizing and screening villagers who may be infected by coronavirus.
Al-Monitor
Alidad Vassigh

Iran: Risks Of A Premature End To Quarantine

President Rouhani wants some activities to reopen, in open conflict with recommendations of national coronavirus task force.

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.

Passengers line up to enter the Wuhan Railway Station in Wuhan on Wednesday.
BBC
Worldcrunch

Coronavirus — Global Brief: What Happens In Wuhan Matters In Wichita

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: WHAT HAPPENS IN WUHAN MATTERS IN WICHITA

And 76 days later…

It was Jan. 23, 2020 when the central Chinese city of Wuhan was cut off from the rest of the world, as government authorities took action to severely restrict people's movements at the epicenter of what was then just the beginning of the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, the two-and-a-half-month ban on travel was lifted, ending the world's longest mass quarantine in memory.

That, of course, leaves much time for the rest of the world to count the days shut inside our own homes and cities. But even as each of us monitors our respective local situation, we will all be watching Wuhan closely to see what happens after its landmark "liberation" from coronavirus lockdown.

The international criticism for what were considered draconian measures in Wuhan are no doubt seen in a new light as other countries are now enforcing lockdowns of their own. And now, we will see another real-world experiment as restrictions are eased, providing precious data: to epidemiologists on the resurgence of cases, to economists on how quickly businesses can bounce back, and to all of us on how much it will take to get back to normal after weeks or months in isolation.

There is certainly a lot to learn from the Wuhan example, even if containment measures in different countries have varied widely. In China, the virus has been contained by forcing anyone with a fever and people who had been in close contact with someone believed to be infected into "centralized quarantine." This means that thousands of people were taken from their homes and placed in converted hotels, dorms and classrooms in order to stop transmission, even among family members at home. This has not been the case in most Western countries, where authorities have sought to keep people out of hospitals unless their cases are severe and advised people with symptoms to self-isolate at home.

All this to say that what happens in Wuhan won't necessarily determine what will happen in the rest of the world. If the resurgence of cases depends on how much immunity is already in the population, as some epidemiologists claim, China's efficient containment might eventually prove to be a weak spot. So, even as we count the days, there will be plenty of other data to calculate as well.

Michaela Kozminova

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Wuhan reopens: Coronavirus lockdown ends after 76 days in the central Chinese city where it was believed to have begun.

  • Toll: Deaths pass 10,000 in France, as the U.S. records highest death toll in a single day with more than 1,800 fatalities, 731 in New York state alone.

  • Europe blocked: Talks of European Union recovery fund to help southern countries, especially Italy and Spain, have stalled after 16 hours, leading the head of the European Research Council to resign, "extremely disappointed by the European response".

  • Polish vote: parliament approves legislation to allow presidential elections in May to be held as a postal ballot.

  • Pyongyang tests: In North Korea, 709 people have been tested and 509 are in quarantine, according to a WHO representative, but the country still reports no cases.

  • Where's El Señor Presidente? Even as Nicaragua continues to promote gatherings and mass events, while President Daniel Ortega has been absent for almost a month.

  • RIP Prine: U.S. raspy-voiced country icon John Prine dies from coronavirus complications in Nashville at age 73.

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