TEHRAN (Dispatches) – Acting on an order by Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s armed forces have offered full access to their health facilities and other medical equipment as coronavirus cases rise sharply in Tehran and other cities across the country.
Brigadier General Ramezan Sharif, the spokesman of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), said in a statement on Friday that all units of the military force have received an order to offer health services to those diagnosed with COVID-19 across the country.
He said all of IRGC health centers, makeshift hospitals and Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences would be mobilized to provide assistance to the patients "with new inclusive and operational arrangements,” as instructed by IRGC chief commander Major General Hussein Salami.
Groups of volunteer Basij forces were also tasked with speeding up their countrywide campaign to contain the fast-spreading disease by supplying people with preventive equipment such as face masks and disinfectants.
The statements were issued a day after Ayatollah Khamenei issued an order to that effect to Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Muhammad Baqeri as health authorities have been warning of shortages of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
Iran announced on Friday that non-emergency patients would not be admitted to hospitals due to large numbers of coronavirus patients as the governor of Tehran extended the closure of public places in the capital, which has been the hardest hit.
It was not clear if the directive, which was announced by deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi, applied to the whole country or just Tehran.
Other countries issued similar orders earlier in the pandemic but this would be the first time Iran has done so. The daily death toll from COVID-19 reached a record of 239 this week in what the ministry says is a third wave of infections.
"Due to the large number of coronavirus outpatients and patients, hospitalization of non-emergency patients is not allowed until further notice,” Harirchi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.
Schools, mosques, shops, restaurants and other public institutions in Tehran closed for a week on Oct. 3 and the governor extended the closure on Friday for another week. Masks, which had been compulsory in shops, must be worn anywhere in public from Saturday.
Iran has recorded the most infections in the Middle East and underlying the seriousness of the situation, state television showed footage of 211 newly-dug graves at a cemetery outside the capital in preparation for new victims of Covid-19.
Harirchi and other officials urged Iranians not to attend the burial of Muhammad Reza Shajarian, Iran’s celebrated musician after large crowds of fans gathered outside the Tehran hospital where Shajarian died of cancer on Thursday.
The Health Ministry registered 210 deaths on Friday, slightly below the record 239 on Wednesday, taking the total toll to 28,098. There were 4,142 new identified cases, bringing the total to 492,378, ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV. The television said the virus now has killed more than 1,5000 in one week.
Some shops and restaurants in Tehran were still open this week and their owners told state TV that they
had not received any directive to close. The television showed a vendor striking a female reporter who asked him why he was not wearing a mask and gloves.
Iran is grappling with the coronavirus amid the most draconian sanctions imposed by the U.S. which has been stiffening the measures to close any remaining aperture for supply of medicine and medical equipment.
On Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh censured the U.S. for its "empty offers of aid”, saying Washington had better unblock Iran’s assets in other parts of the world to prove its so-called benevolent gestures.
Khatibzadeh said in a post on his Twitter page that there was a great gap between U.S. words and deeds, as it kept offering aid to Iran while preventing the country from using its money to provide food and medicine for its people.
"U.S. keeps repeating empty offers of "aid”. Here’s an idea: Put ur policy where ur mouth is. Just stop blocking Iranian people’s right to use their own money frozen in Korea, Iraq & Japan, to be used for food & medicine-amid pandemic,” read part of the tweet.
To prove its intentions, the tweet said, the U.S. could ask its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) agency to unfreeze Iran’s money in South Korea and send it to a Swiss trade channel meant to help Iran avoid US sanctions.
In June, Governor of the Central Bank of Iran Abdolnaser Hemmati said Korean banks were preventing Iran from using billions of dollars of its oil money to buy foods and medicines which the U.S. alleges are exempt from its sanctions.
Iran says South Korea is in arrears on payment of about 7 billion dollars for Iranian oil before the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions on Tehran’s oil industry in November 2018.
Iranian authorities have been pressing South Korea to release the frozen funds so that it could use them for purchase of basic goods.