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Iran Minister Asks Khamenei For COVID Shutdown With Military's Help

In an unprecedented move during 18 months of the Covid pandemic in Iran, and on the verge of a new president taking office in the coming week, Iran’s outgoing health minister Saeed Namaki has appealed to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for his intervention to declare a two-week shutdown in the country.

In a letter published Sunday, Namaki says that in a situation of transfer of power he feels obliged to pass on the concerns of senior health care officials and top doctors about the serious situation in the country created by the rampaging Delta variant of the coronavirus.

He tells Khamenei that a recent shutdown in Tehran completely failed, as all restaurants, businesses remained open and people took trips to other cities and askes for the intervention of the armed forces to enforce a total lockdown.

Since February 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic spread in Iran, the government announced many lockdowns, but none worked due to lack of enforcement. Clerics refused to call off religious gatherings and President Hassan Rouhani was reluctant to effectively close down businesses amid a worsening economy. As a result, Iran is now experiencing the fifth wave of the pandemic with above 30,000 verified cases a day, while testing remains relatively low.

“Every second we delay the decision, the tragedy will be greater and its damage to the country heavier,” Namaki wrote in his letter published by several Iranian websites. He added that “Perhaps a serious two-week shutdown with determination and the use of the armed forces and the police and dealing strictly with those who would violate the protocols could prevent the spread of the virus somewhat.”

Namaki also criticized religious leaders and institutions, saying that regularly Afghan and Pakistani pilgrims and visitors are guests of these entities, and the government has no information or any idea of their impact.

In the past 18 months, many public figures and the media have criticized Namaki and Rouhani’s government for their handling of the pandemic, their contradictory statement and the allegedly low official figures of infections and deaths issued by the health ministry. So far, Iran has had almost 4 million Covid cases and more than 90,000 deaths, that critics say could be at least twice as high.

Namaki himself has been criticized for his repeated public flattery of the Supreme Leader, instead of acting in an efficient manner to contain the disease. In a letter in mid-July, Namaki told Khamenei that “As long as there is God and your prayers, we have no fear of a surge by the disease.” The letter was full of poetic flattery, such as comparing Khamenei’s voice to a soothing rainfall.

Iran’s vaccination plan has also failed, with just around six percent of its 85 million population vaccinated. The irony of the situation is that the health minister is appealing to the Supreme Leader, while it was Khamenei himself who banned the purchase of American and British vaccines back in January, setting back the national vaccination plan. Most other countries in the region are well ahead of Iran, inoculating a significant portion of their populations.

Since July 15, there have also been daily anti-government protests in many Iranian cities and a total lockdown, using the armed forces, can prevent these spontaneous outbreaks of dissent.

In his letter Namaki says that the health care system is on the verge of a breakdown, with infrastructure and equipment wearing out and “even if we have available beds, we do not have personnel.”

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