Iran reported eight deaths and 43 infections from the new coronavirus, prompting neighboring states to close links with Tehran as authorities failed to respond quickly enough to the rapidly spreading epidemic.
Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Armenia closed land borders with Iran on Sunday while Tehran officials reported three new deaths and 15 new cases in one day.
Since the infection, officially known as COVID-19, was first detected in the Iranian city of Qom on Wednesday, there has been a sharp increase in cases in the country while Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates (United Arab Emirates) have said people traveling from Iran had tested positive for the pathogen upon entering their territories.
The death toll in Iran is the highest number reported outside of China, the epicenter of the epidemic, where the virus caused over 2,400 victims and infected over 77,000 people.
With the spread of the virus in Iran, the authorities closed schools and canceled artistic and film events in an attempt to stem the epidemic. They have also designated at least 230 hospitals across the country to treat infections.
But some medical staff are expressing concern about what they called the lack of adequate equipment in hospitals, while some members of the public accused the government of failing to take adequate preventive measures.
A senior official from the World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, has expressed concern about the crippling sanctions imposed by the United States in a “maximum pressure” campaign that could affect Iran’s ability to deal with epidemic.
A nurse from the city of Rasht in Gilan said that equipment was missing in hospitals in the northern province, where four cases of infection were recorded.
“We are [at] at the forefront of dealing with people who are suspected of being infected. But we don’t have standard clothes or protective masks. We have been given the clothes that are used in operating rooms, we know it is not effective. We also don’t have the necessary disinfectant and disinfectant liquids. “
Meanwhile, a doctor in Tehran, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Them [authorities] they are not prepared to face the disease. Hospitals are also not well equipped. “
Fahimeh, a Tehran official, echoed the sentiment, saying she feared for her 42-year-old husband, who suffered a heart attack two years ago.
“I am concerned about my husband because I am not sure that the hospitals are really prepared to provide the requested services to the patients,” said the 32-year-old, who preferred to give a name, noting that the WHO’s warning of the infection resulted in risks for elderly patients or for those who have underlying diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
“I am not happy with the government’s response, because they are not well prepared even if they knew that coronavirus could come to Iran. For example, the ministry of health continues to say that there is no shortage of masks and gels for manual sterilization. But, on the ground it’s not like that, “he said, noting that the city’s pharmacies were facing a shortage of masks and hand sanitizers.
In the hard-hit city of Qom, an important Shi’ite religious city, a journalist said that a sign of health officials who are not prepared for a potential outbreak is how they “did the diagnostic tests only after the “deaths.
The situation in Qom, where 26 infections and several deaths have been reported, “will get worse,” he said.
Some also questioned why the authorities slowed down air links with China, one of Iran’s closest trading partners. Tehran suspended flights to Beijing on February 3, four days after WHO declared the outbreak of a global health emergency in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a member visiting the Brookings Doha Center, said the epidemic further eroded Iranian public confidence in the government, as it stems from widespread dissatisfaction with perceived mismanagement at a time of worsening economy, as well as anger at the Iranian authorities’ heavy crackdowns on dissent, including a bloody crackdown on people protesting about rising fuel prices in November.
“There are concerns that Iranian authorities have delayed informing the public of the epidemic, similar to actions by the Chinese government,” he said, referring to anger in China after it emerged that the authorities were aware of a deadly new outbreak. viral late December, but started taking precautionary measures only weeks later, in late January.
Fathollah-Nejad added: “It deepens the feeling [in Iran] that the government has not taken the necessary precautions to protect people’s health and lives. Because of Iran’s need to maintain its contacts with China intact, they have maintained flights and other connections with China, while other countries have been more careful. “
But the Iranian authorities defended their conduct, with government spokesman Ali Rabiei saying on Friday that the health ministry had acted “honestly and transparently” in managing the epidemic.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki told the semiautomatic news agency ISNA that the government “has acted with honor in preventing the epidemic of infectious diseases”.
“The latest example of this type is the management of our colleagues in dealing with floods across the country in March last year when no pandemic broke out,” he said, referring to measures to address water-borne diseases. following unprecedented and deadly floods that hit 25 of the 31 provinces in Iran in March last year.
Tehran’s chief emergency services chief Peyman Saberian told the PANA news agency Wednesday that the capital was ready for an outbreak. “There is no shortage of clothes and equipment,” he said. “The most important thing is that people take care of their health and personal hygiene.”
Also dr. Abdinasir Abubakar of the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean expressed confidence in Iran’s ability to manage an outbreak.
“Iran has one of the best health systems in the region and has the ability to manage the epidemic,” he told Al Jazeera on Sunday. However, he said that U.S. sanctions could harm Tehran’s ability to respond to the crisis.
“The embargo may have had an impact [the] the general economy and Iran may not be [be] able to buy [the] technology needed to produce essential equipment and medicines. However, Iran is one of the countries in the region with adequate preparation and capacity for such epidemics. “
Additional reports by Virginia Pietromarchi and Zaheena Rasheed in Doha, Qatar