Iran’s President Raisi faces fifth wave of pandemic as economic pressures and opposition from workers grow

By far the country worst affected by Covid-19 in the Middle East, Iran has for weeks been grappling with a fifth wave of infections—the strongest yet. Daily deaths and cases are mounting amid criticism of the government’s handling of the pandemic on social media.

According to the latest official figures, over 12,000 people, including children, have died from Covid-19 in the last two weeks, overwhelming Iran’s rundown public health service. It brings the total death toll to more than 110,000, although the state-run Shargh daily said that “experts believed the actual figure is 2.5 times more.”

Some 7,689 people are in severe condition and are being treated in intensive care units, while more than 600 people are dying every day, including members of Iran’s ruling circle. Last week, local media reported that Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of Iran’s armed forces until 2016 and then military advisor to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, had died of coronavirus aged 70.

Hospitals are so overcrowded that patients line the floors and the most desperate lay waiting on the streets. Vital medicines are in short supply.

US sanctions on Iran targeting its oil exports, which have suffered a catastrophic loss of $100 billion in revenues, and its access to the US-dominated international banking system, have ravaged the country’s healthcare system, denying it access to pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

People wait for their turn to receive Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Iran Mall shopping center in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. So far only 3 million people out of Iran’s population of 80 million have had both vaccine doses. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

At the same time, Iran’s pro-business clerical regime, by seeking to impose the full burden of the economic crisis caused by the sanctions and the pandemic on the working class and poor farmers to protect the country’s corrupt financial elite, has played a crucial role in allowing the coronavirus to sweep through the population.

Chairing his first cabinet meeting, President Ebrahim Raisi, a member of the “hardline” or “principalist” faction around Khamenei, was forced to admit the scale of the crisis confronting workers and their families. He said that Iran is “seriously lagging behind” in many areas and pledged to improve its economy and Covid response, saying that the current situation “does not befit” the Islamic republic.

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