The Iranian government believes that the Level-3 quarantine, which has been in effect across the country in the past two weeks, will ultimately help contain the spread of coronavirus, according to Kiyanoush Jahanpour, the Spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Medical Sciences.
Mr. Jahanpour made the comments during a video press briefing on March 22.
“What critics are referring to about quarantining cities amounts to martial law [Level-4 quarantine] which is impractical because of security and economic implications,” Jahanpour was quoted by Donya-e-Eghtesad newspaper as saying. “It is not unusual to quarantine people and places. The Level-3 includes closing all schools, universities, shopping centers, and stores and urging people to stay home and avoid all non-essential travels. These measures will be effective, but the public must do its part.”
Jahanpour was responding to a barrage of criticism that the ministry was not doing enough to curb the spread of the disease. Earlier in March, the newly formed National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus tasked the Health Ministry with drafting a plan for stopping the coronavirus epidemic.
Many Iranians have ignored the government’s warning against non-essential travel during Nowruz (Iranian new year starting on March 20) and have headed out in their cars to various destinations in the country.
Footage on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) News (Khabar) channel showed cars moving at a snail’s pace on Tehran-Qom highway — turning the road into a giant car park.
Another video clip showed unidentified IRIB reporters interviewing drivers and passengers in cars, stuck in a traffic jam, about their reasons for ignoring the government’s warning against travel, given the severity of the coronavirus epidemic in the country.
Many people told the reporters that although they lived and worked in Tehran, they were from other parts of the country and were traveling home to be with their families for Nowruz, despite the government’s stark health warnings.
“We urge people to heed our warnings and stay home,” Mr. Taghizadeh, the Tehran deputy governor for urban development, said in an interview with the news channel. “We are all in this together. That is the only way we can stop the spread of the virus in our provinces.”
“We urge our fellow citizens to stay home,” Mr. Motamedi, the deputy head of operation of Tehran’s emergency services, told the News channel. “They should postpone their Nowruz travel plan until we have defeated coronavirus.”
Despite the increasing number of new cases of coronavirus infections across the country, many local authorities have refused to lock down cities in their respective provinces and restrict or ban travel.
Undated footage on social media showed a trailer transporting eight used cars with Tehran license plates to the southern province of Bushehr — allegedly an attempt to circumvent travel restrictions and avoid police inspections.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (IRIR) has not reduced the services of its passenger trains. According to the IRIR head office, the government has not ordered the company to reduce its train services. Trains packed to full capacity with Nowruz holidaymakers have reportedly been leaving Tehran central railway stations for various destinations in the north and south of the country.
The Airline of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran Air (Homa), is also yet to reduce its services.
In comments reported by the Mehr News Agency on March 16, Iran Air assured its customers that “Homa will operate as normal, given the high volume of customer demand during Nowruz.”
“The airline will adhere to strict health and hygiene guidelines to ensure passenger safety,” the statement by the airline added. “No flight has been canceled because of health and hygiene problems.”
The Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization of Iran (ICHTO) has provided no travel information and guidelines to the Nowruz holidaymakers, hotels, motels, inns, travel agencies, and booking sites.
While property owners have refused to rent out apartments and villas, particularly those along the Caspian Sea, several online booking sites have continued to offer accommodations for travelers and domestic tourists.
Several big hotels in the historic city of Isfahan, capital of the central province of Isfahan, and the holy city of Mashhad, capital of the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi, have been fully booked during Nowruz. The hotels have said that they had received no directives from local authorities or the government to reduce or restrict services.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]