Iran allowed some shuttered Tehran businesses to reopen Saturday despite the centre East’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, as many faced a bitter choice between risking infection and financial ruin.
Top officials argue that Iran’s sanctions-hit economy cannot afford to stay on lockdown, and approved similar measures in other provinces last week.
There was a “significant” uptick in highway use on Saturday, in line with Tehran’s traffic police captain, who told state TV that some anti-congestion measures had been lifted to discourage the use of public transportation.
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Some Tehran residents said they were concerned about the outbreak but had to travel back to figure as their livelihoods trusted it.
“I don’t think it’s safe yet,” said Reza Jafari, a salesman at a handbag wholesaler within the capital.
“But I had to induce back to figure for financial reasons. If I had the choice I wouldn’t, but if the shop remains closed longer we could have sex off.”
Jafari, speaking by telephone, said retailers from other provinces had flocked to the shop on Saturday to refresh their stocks, which most shopkeepers and customers failed to wear masks or gloves.
At the nearby Grand Bazaar, many shopkeepers sat on the steps of closed stalls, saying they weren’t allowed to reopen until May 1.
They protested what they saw as an ethic, with shops outside the bazaar working while they continue to be barred from reopening.
“How am i able to stay keep staying home? My family is hungry,” said Hamdollah Mahmoudi, 45, a store worker within the bazaar.
“And one gets mentally sick without work”.
Morteza, 30, said he was unable to open his stall despite pressure from creditors.
“This is that the second stage of coronavirus on behalf of me,” he said.
“I would be more contented dead now.”
‘Smart social distancing’
Hit by a deadly disease of the Covid-19 illness that has now killed over 5,000 people and infected over 80,000 in line with official figures, Iran close up all non-essential economic activity in mid-March.
Some abroad and lots of inside Iran, including officials and health experts, have said the casualty figures could also be more than the official count.
But authorities now argue it’s possible to battle the virus and reopen the economy at the identical time with “smart social distancing” measures.
Businesses seeking to reopen need to register online with the health ministry and so receive guidelines for staying safe.
They are then given a QR code to print and show to officials inspecting their premises, said Jafari, adding that he had registered.
But he said he was sceptical officials could enforce sanitary guidelines, saying shopkeepers would don masks temporarily then relax when inspectors leave.
‘Forced to travel back’
The decision to reopen “low-risk” businesses has drawn criticism from health experts and even some administration, but President Hassan Rouhani has insisted “there is not any other way”.
Iran’s economy has been battered by Washington’s re-imposition of crippling sanctions since 2018 — a situation compounded by plummeting global oil prices and shrinking tax revenues because the coronavirus lockdown took hold.
According to the International fund, the Iranian economy shrank by 7.6 per cent in 2019 and is anticipated to contract an extra 6 per cent this year.
Small retailers were hit particularly hard because the pandemic overshadowed the Iranian year shopping season.
But on Saturday, an AFP reporter saw an uptown clothing boutique doing a brisk trade, with masked and gloved assistants progressing to customers without protective gear.
Photos published by ISNA news organisation showed crowds of individuals without masks crowding government offices in Tehran, reportedly to sign on for state loans.
A cashier said her branch in northern Tehran had received more customers on Saturday than in recent weeks, mostly businessmen.
But Tehran residents interviewed by AFP talked both of economic distress and fear of catching the virus.
“Everyone hoped permanently sales this year, and now they’ve hit a brick wall,” said optometrist Kawan Ghane, who owns an eyewear shop within the city.
The 36-year old said he has not reopened yet, unsure whether customers will come and petrified of infection.
“It’s very scary examining someone, up close, who may be infected,” he said.
“But I’m forced to eventually return thanks to my financial situation.”