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Rouhani Tells Covid Taskforce To Warn Iran Candidates After Big Raeesi Rally

President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday ordered the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce to urgently warn candidates in Iran's presidential and local elections to abide by Covid-19 social-distancing regulations in campaign rallies. The taskforce, he said, should inform the public they would take action against anyone breaking the rules.

Rouhani's speech included several not-so-veiled references to Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi (Raisi), widely seen as the front-runner in the June 18 presidential election. On Wednesday during a country-wide tour, Raeesi held a large rally in Ahwaz, Khuzestan province. Thousands, many without face masks, packed a stadium to support the chief justice.

Such rallies risked normalizing gatherings without social distancing, Rouhani said at a taskforce meeting in Tehran after he heard reports on candidates' attitudes to the protocols announced by the health ministry.

"Those who will be responsible for enforcement of laws in the country should not break the law," Rouhani said. "Healthcare staff who are fighting for health do not expect those who will be taking over the highest executive position in the country to harm them and create problems for them."

Raeesi’s Ahvaz event was the first large campaign rally in the controversial presidential elections. The seven candidates have mostly communicated plans or promises through social-media platforms such as Telegram, Instagram, Twitter and the relatively new Clubhouse audio chat, as well as on airtime allocated by the state broadcaster.

The election campaigns are underway with 16 cities and towns out of nearly 1,150 are coded "red," the most serious level of concern for Covid, and 201 coded "orange." Iran has experienced four peaks in the pandemic, with over three million infections and over 81,000 deaths, officially reported and possibly many more gone unreported. According to the latest figures issued by the health ministry on June 10, there were 12,298 new cases and 153 deaths over the previous 24-hour reporting period. 

According to the ministry, 4,289,000 out of 83 million Iranians have received a first dose of the Covid vaccine and 742,817 two doses. Vaccination centers in several cities, including Tehran, in the past week have reported running out of vaccine supplies and some cities have reported a halt in inoculation. But reports this week said many cities have run out vaccines and one official blamed Russia and Chinese companies of not honoring their commitments to deliver more doses.

Just over a week before polling day, where fears over the virus could depress turnout, Iran has imported enough Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines, Chinese and Russian vaccines for only about 3 percent of the population. Iran is still working on domestic vaccines, while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ruled against importing United States or British ones in January.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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