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Iran Mandates Masks in Public          07/05 10:29

   

   TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran on Sunday instituted mandatory mask-wearing as 
fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as 
its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness it causes.

   Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicized an image of himself in a 
mask in recent days, urging both public officials and the Islamic Republic's 80 
million people to wear them to stop the virus's spread.

   But public opinion polling and a walk through any of the streets of Tehran 
show the widespread apathy felt over a pandemic that saw Iran in February among 
the first countries struck after China. Whether rooted in fatigue, dismissal or 
fatalism, that indifference has scared Iranian public health officials into 
issuing increasingly dire warnings.

   "Let me first thank our great people," a health worker in a hazmat suit in a 
hospital corridor sarcastically bellows in one dark state TV spot. "You hand in 
hand with the coronavirus defeated us!"

   The new rules mark a turning point for Iran, which has struggled in trying 
to balance provincial lockdowns to stop the virus's spread with the fears of 
stalling out an economy already struggling under U.S. sanctions after America's 
unilateral withdrawal in 2018 from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. 
Religious considerations also played a role in this Shiite theocracy as 
authorities declined for weeks to close shrines where the faithful touch or 
kiss the tombs' protective bars.

   For a moment, it appeared the restrictions and public fear had worked, as 
reported new cases and deaths from the virus dropped to their lowest levels in 
May. But new cases soon rose again, with officials initially saying better 
testing causes the numbers to spike even as they lifted restrictions to boost 
economic activity.

   By mid-June, daily death tolls again routinely rose to triple digits. On 
June 30, Iran saw its highest single-day reported death toll of the pandemic 
with 162 killed.

   Fears persist that Iran's actual death toll from the virus may be nearly 
double its reported figures, as a parliamentary report in April suggested. 
Masoud Mardani, a member of the country's coronavirus task force, recently said 
that sampling from random antibody tests suggest that 18 million Iranians have 
so far been afflicted by the virus, without elaborating. Iran has only reported 
over 240,000 confirmed cases.

   "We see that some consider being infected with the virus bad and hide it," a 
mask-wearing President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday, according to a transcript 
on the presidency's website. "If someone knows that they have been infected 
with coronavirus, they have a religious and human duty to inform others about 
it."

   To fight the virus's spread, the Iranian government issued the mask mandate. 
The new rules require those in Tehran's subway, riding buses or indoors to wear 
them. Rouhani said those seeking "public services" also will be required to 
wear a mask.

   Up until this point, wearing a mask in Iran had been encouraged but remained 
a personal choice. It follows the changing views and mixed messages of the 
scientific community over the usefulness of masks since the pandemic began.

   The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April began urging 
Americans to cover their faces to stop the virus. In June, the World Health 
Organization changed its advice, recommending that people wear fabric masks if 
they could not maintain social distancing, if they were over age 60 or had 
underlying medical conditions. Those masks also help prevent the asymptomatic 
from spreading the virus as well.

   Worldwide, rules for mask wearing vary by country. In Asia, masks are 
mandatory in countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, 
and Thailand. In China, people commonly wear masks, which are required in 
certain areas. Japan urges people to wear masks in certain circumstances, but 
it's not mandatory. And despite mandatory masks rules in India, the poor reuse 
masks for days while physical distancing remains rare.

   In the Mideast, masks are mandatory in nations including Egypt, Iraq, 
Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, although enforcement 
varies.

   In Iran, people remain unenthusiastic about wearing masks, although it 
hasn't become a political statement like it has in the U.S. Instead, it appears 
to be one of fatigue.

   The state-owned polling center ISPA published a June survey of 1,055 Tehran 
residents showing only 41% remain highly worried about the virus, down from 46% 
in May and 58% in April. The survey offered no margin of error.

   hat lack of concern also can be seen in media reports suggesting most of the 
new coronavirus patients attended weddings, parties and funeral services with 
large groups of other people. The renewed spike in cases also coincided with 
Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan 
that sees people celebrate with their loved ones.

   At two busy gas stations, an Associated Press journalist counted only 15 of 
95 drivers wearing masks, while two of the stations' 11 employees wore them.

   "It is useless to wear mask," argued Mohammad Ghasemi, a 27-year-old 
employee of one of the stations. "I use the metro twice a day when it's packed 
with people without (social) distancing."

   The cost and quality of masks also remains a concern. Masks range from the 
equivalent of 10 U.S. cents to $3, which can be a lot, as the Iranian rial has 
fallen to historic lows against the dollar.

   And in a nation where over half its people are under the age of 35, the 
virus hasn't been an overwhelming concern for its youth --- even as it can be 
fatal for older people and those with a preexisting condition. That was the 
feeling 23-year-old Hamid Sharifi had as he smoked a cigarette on a Tehran 
street.

   "I think it's not as dangerous as they said in the beginning," said Sharifi, 
unmasked, before walking away into the crowds of the capital.

   Samad Rostami, a 35-year-old shopkeeper, disagreed.

   "If we continue like this, our hospitals will be full and patients should 
lie on streets," he said. "We are getting closer to the brink of catastrophe."

 
 
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