Tehran, Iran – “The second time I dealt with the virus, I was in so much pain one night that I said my prayers before going to bed because I felt as if I wouldn’t see another morning,” says Sadaf Samimi, who lives in Tehran.

The 29-year-old journalist told Al Jazeera that she first tested positive for COVID-19 at her workplace in July and has been working from home since then.

However, in early September, she got sick a second time with the coronavirus after meeting two of her close friends who were isolated at home. One of her friends had bought groceries at a large market where they might have contracted the virus.

Samimi said she experienced shortness of breath and symptoms of a severe cold the first time she was infected, but coming through the second time was a much more painful experience, characterized by severe body aches and splitting headaches, among other things.

“Now I use three face masks and three [pairs of] Gloves when I go out, ”she said.

“I’m so irritated and angry about people who go out unnecessarily and when I see friends talking about travel on social media. I have a feeling that they and their families were fortunate enough not to get infected and therefore don’t know what they are doing to themselves. “

Samimi said she felt that a lot of people are too relaxed considering how bad the situation is.

The authorities agree.

According to health officials, more than four in five Iranians stuck to health protocols in March, weeks after the pandemic started, but the figure is now only 40 percent.

Authorities claim that reopening schools and holding public ceremonies to honor religious occasions did not affect the number of cases.

Iran reported 30,000 official COVID-19 victims on Saturday as Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari announced that 253 more people had lost their lives in the past 24 hours.

There were also 4,103 more new infections on Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 526,490.

The highest number of one-day infections was recorded on Wednesday with 4,830 cases, as was a worst one-day number of 279 deaths reported.

The majority of Iran’s 32 provinces, including Tehran, are still rated as red on a color-coded scale that indicates the severity of the outbreaks.

New restrictions on Tehran

In response to the alarming surge in infections, deaths and hospitalizations, officials have put new restrictions on Tehran, which bears the brunt of COVID-19 cases in the worst outbreak in the Middle East.

A mandatory city-wide mask rule was put in place last week, and President Hassan Rouhani announced fines for people and companies who do not obey the rules.

He said those who break the mask rule will be fined 500,000 rials ($ 1.6), while the maximum fine for individuals has been set at 2 million rials ($ 6.6) for those who are positive test for COVID-19 and knowingly put others at risk by not quarantining.

Companies have also been ordered to refuse to provide services to people without a mask and face fines and eventual closures of up to 10 million rials ($ 33).

It took weeks to finalize the sentences, and police officers tasked with imposing the sentences said they had not yet imposed any fines.

At the request of the Ministry of Health, officials have also introduced three-day travel restrictions for five metropolitan areas, which expire at the end of Saturday.

As part of the travel restrictions that do not apply to travel by train or plane, only people whose license plates are registered in Tehran, Karaj, Mashhad, Isfahan and Urmia or can prove that they live in and from these cities are allowed to travel.

The move came in response to an anticipated wave of travel during the three-day period that coincided with the national religious holidays.

On Saturday, the governor of Tehran announced the partial closure of the city, during which cafes, universities, cinemas and sports centers, among other things, have closed in the past two weeks. This will last until at least October 23rd.

However, authorities have not been able to impose more extensive lockdowns as the economy is still under immense pressure from the sanctions imposed by the United States.

The sanctions are relentless after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers.

Samimi, who has lost several extended family members and family friends since the pandemic began, says that after double-checking the COVID-19 exam, she strongly supports any restrictions that could help save lives.

“I’m not an economist and I don’t know what the financial burden will be on people and businesses, but I think human lives are more important than the economy,” she said.

“I think a damaged economy can recover, but the life that escapes a body will never return.”

However, in an economy characterized by high inflation and unemployment, many do not have the option of working from home or losing their limited income.

“I follow all the protocols as best I can, but a hungry stomach doesn’t care about these things,” said Shahrokh, a 50-year-old father of two who works as a driver on an online app for Jazeera.

“I was home for a few weeks when the pandemic started, but I haven’t been working since. It’s fate; If I am to die, I will die, ”said Shahrokh, who has diabetes, a disease that makes him much more susceptible to being infected with the virus.

“Health Workers Are Tired”

Meanwhile, health workers across Iran, particularly Tehran, are under increasing pressure.

“I’m not the most experienced person, but caring for COVID patients has been one of the strangest and saddest experiences I’ve ever had,” said Mahsa, a 24-year-old intern last year who worked in medicine for months Azad University hospitals in Tehran during the pandemic.

“What impressed me the most was the amount of fear, frustration and concern in patients and their families,” she told Al Jazeera.

Mahsa said it was particularly frustrating for her and her colleagues not to be able to comfort patients. Partly because so much remains unknown about the virus and because there are limitations caused by maintaining physical distance and wearing so much protective gear.

Sometimes, she said, hospital staff couldn’t even hold patients in the emergency room for a few minutes to give them an oxygen boost before they were transferred to another hospital.

Recordings broadcast on state television from hospitals in the capital in recent days have also shown that many even in emergency rooms do not have empty beds and have no choice but to keep patients waiting or turn them away.

Last week, the Ministry of Health announced that hospitals across the country must refuse to accept all non-emergency patients.

In addition, many hospitals face medical bottlenecks, especially treatments that have shown promise to help COVID-19 patients.

This has forced troubled family members to sometimes search the black markets for drugs, often at astronomical prices that many cannot afford.

Last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered all military hospitals to admit coronavirus patients, while Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander-in-chief Hossein Salami pledged “the entire medical and supportive capacity of the IRGC” to help fight the disease .

Mahsa: “What can be seen most clearly among health workers at the moment is tiredness and exhaustion from overflowing patients, wearing protective clothing and adhering to strict protocols, even during short rest periods, as these are rest areas also shared. “

The head of Iran’s Medical Council had the same message last week: “Health workers are tired” in a press conference.

“The overwhelming cure of COVID in intensive care units is not possible,” said Mohammadreza Zafarghandi.

“We have to remember to prevent infection.”

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