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Health Officials Urge Cities Lockdown As Iran Covid Deaths Rise

Urgent action is needed in Tehran and other major cities to stop further escalation of the coronavirus pandemic, the heads of major medical universities and the chairman of the parliamentary health committee have said.

In a letter to Health Minister Saeed Namaki on Monday, the medical universities’ chiefs advocated a strict national lockdown of at least two weeks. “Immediate intervention to reduce the spread of the disease in the coming weeks is unavoidable and crucial,” their letter said.

The situation in the capital is graver than the rest of the country with, according to the Chairperson of Tehran City Council’s health committee, currently around 50 percent of all Covid-19 deaths. But Mohsen Rouholamini, a member of parliament’s health committee, on Tuesday said Tehran’s coronavirus taskforce – a multi-agency executive body – was refusing to impose a two-week lockdown.

Iranian authorities do not announce specific daily case or death numbers for the capital or other cities. Based on the latest statement of the health ministry on Tuesday, in the last 24-hour reporting period to noon Tuesday 10,339 new Covid cases were identified nationally, bringing the total number of cases since February to 703,288. With 453 deaths in same reporting period, the total official death toll reached 39,202.  But many health and local officials have disputed these numbers, some claiming that the real death toll could be four times higher.

The death rate per capita currently being reported in Iran is higher than in the United States. With a population of just over 80 million, Iran’s current daily toll would be equivalent to just under 1800 in the US, where 729 deaths were recorded on Monday. Some Iranian health officials, however, have said that official statistics vastly underestimate the real death toll.

Another controversial issue is the higher number of positives among those tested in Iran. Haleh Ghaem, the Head of the Epidemiology Faculty in Shiraz University and a Covid specialist, has argued that, in comparison to other countries, many in Iran with mild symptoms do not seek medical help or are never tested. In Fars Province around 50 percent of tests come back positive, she has said.

Iran has tested 5.3 million people, around 7 percent of the population, whereas neighboring Turkey with a similar population has carried out 15 million tests. This suggests the figure of 703,288 Covid cases in Iran underestimates the real number.

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