Iran’s Corona Virus Crisis: A Clustered Issue

Iran is struggling to fight against COVID-19 under US sanctions. Iran's more 60 thousand cases require ventilators and medical equipment but it can not carry out international transactions due to sanctions. Will international community help ease sanctions on Iran and support it in fight against COVID-19?

Iran

Iran’s state of affairs worsened with the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country during the first week of February 2020. For the time being, it is one of the main epicentres of this pandemic. Iran’s government challenges to deal with the deadly spread of virus more difficult due to marginal resources at hand. This has been exacerbated by the policy of the Trump Administration towards Iran which further intensifies the problems for the Iranian regime and its people. 

On Ground Situation

The virus started at to spread in the holy city of Qom, Iran’s main religious town, that is located just 90 miles from Tehran. As religious pilgrims spread all over the country and returned to their homes enormous fatalities began to be recorded, Al Jazeera reported this spread as “the largest daily rise in deaths since it began attacking the Middle East” Tehran has reported nearly 60,500 infections in the country of 81 million, with nearly 3,800 deaths, including several Iranian government officials, parliamentarians, and religious leaders.

A real challenge along with the deteriorating economic situation is to fight the novel coronavirus. According to analysts, Iran needs to increase its intensive care unit (ICU) capacity by nearly 4 times, from 7,200 to more than 25,000. Iranian hospitals will require more than 35,000 beds and some 15,000 new ventilator machines.

Impact of American Sanctions on Iran

The clamorous political and diplomatic relationship between the United States and Iran is brooding even further in the time of this medical chaos. Since 2018, the Trump administration has imposed a policy of “maximum pressure” sanctions against Tehran after its withdrawal from the landmark nuclear agreement, JCPOA. As primary and secondary sanctions wreak havoc on the Iranians, Covid-19 makes the situation even bleaker.

The Trump administration must re-consider its maximum pressure policy which has aggravated Iran’s coronavirus situation and enhances risks for bordering states as well

According to Reuters, “The United States sent Iran a blunt message: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.” Recently, US administration imposed new sanctions on 20 Iranian people and companies accused of supporting a Shia militia in Iraq, which is believed to be responsible for attacks on Iraqi bases, where US forces are located, earlier in January.

In parallel, President Trump, during the April 2 news conference, stated that “if they (Iran) need help with respect to the virus, we’d(U.S.) love to send, we have the greatest medical professionals in the world, we’d love to send them over.” In response, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has refused U.S. assistance to fight coronavirus and demanded the end of hard U.S. sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy.

The US has denied that its sanctions are restricting Iran’s ability to import medical supplies, pointing to an exemption for humanitarian goods. But Iran says companies find it difficult to process payments with banks specifically because of the sanctions imposed on its Central Bank in 2019. Therefore, due to fear of being ousted, European states are unwilling to break US rules and jeopardize sanctions. Several large companies left business dealings with Iran such as Siemens, which produces and sells ventilators.

Read more: Rising xenophobia: Are Chinese responsible for pandemic?

Humanitarian Crisis must ensure stakeholders reassess their relationship with Iran

Addressing the global emergency by ensuring all impacted are united it vital to declare victory against the virus. Therefore, a holistic approach which includes a diplomatic and humanitarian aspect is well suited in dealing with such challenges that know no national borders.

In Iran, at a national level, the number of fatalities is increasing with every passing hour and exacerbating the medical crisis in the country. While the Iranian government has closed schools, universities and shrines, and banned cultural and religious gatherings, it has not imposed complete lockdowns, so far, which is likely in coming days.

To shore up its economy, Iran has requested a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) its first such appeal since 1962. Subsequently, Iran’s administration is putting together plans to indemnify small businesses.

Trump administration’s contemplation towards Iran’s situation will slow one of the largest outbreaks of this deadly virus and may save millions of human lives

At an international level, the United States must take into account the consequences of the further spread of Covid-19 in the region due to Iran’s situation. An example of faulty management can be seen with regards to Pakistan which was most impacted by the virus due to return of pilgrims without any set testing protocol.

Previously, there is a precedent by US administrations during President George W. Bush in 2003 and Barrack Obama in 2012, to practice temporarily suspension of sanctions after earthquakes in Iran. The Trump administration must re-consider its maximum pressure policy which has aggravated Iran’s coronavirus situation and enhances risks for bordering states as well.

At a diplomatic front, the interim suspension of sanctions during this Iran medical disaster may build a way for a possibility of regional stability. It might develop an opportunity to re-engage with Iran and address the legitimate security concerns of America’s Middle East allies.

Read more: COVID-19: Has it attacked our brains?

Because of the hazardous situation, international cooperation is the only solution to fight against the Covid-19 crisis. At this moment, the mistrust between the United States and Iran might be considered secondary because thousands of human lives are at risk within and outside the borders of Iran. Trump administration’s contemplation towards Iran’s situation will slow one of the largest outbreaks of this deadly virus and may save millions of human lives.

Huma Rehman is a Senior Research Fellow at Center for International Strategic Studies Islamabad and Former Fellow of Middlebury Institute for International Studies (MIIS) Monterey-California US. She can be reached at humarehman.ciss@gmail.com & Twitter @humarehman1. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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