Iranians fearful and struggling to cope as virus spreads

2020-03-02 13:55:20

Tehran (AFP) – Cooped up at home for days because of Iran’s coronavirus outbreak, Parmis Hashemi was desperate, so her mother took her shopping — even though they only had one mask between them.

Despite their fears of catching the disease, the mother and her 13-year-old daughter were out pounding the unusually quiet streets of downtown Tehran on Monday afternoon as officials announced yet another spike in deaths and infections.

Schools have been shut across the country as part of measures aimed at stemming the rapid spread of COVID-19, the virus that has now claimed 66 lives out of more than 1,500 cases in Iran.

“It’s extremely hard for us but I can’t take a taxi or bus to go somewhere even if my feet hurt” from walking, said Parmis’ mother Shahpar.

“My daughter was depressed at home, so I brought her out shopping to cheer her up,” said the 45-year-old housewife.

“They (the children) haven’t been going to school, and they are scared of the virus,” she told AFP.

As she spoke, cars and buses flew past at irregular intervals after sling-shotting out of Vanak Square — one of the capital’s biggest intersections where traffic normally snarls at that time of day.

Gone too was the pollution that usually shrouds the sprawling city of more than eight million, thanks at least in part to the reduced congestion.

That was of little comfort to 39-year-old architect Pejman, who expressed fears about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The disease has disrupted our lives. We are scared. There are no masks, and no alcohol for disinfection. People need them but cannot find them,” he told AFP.

– ‘People are frightened’ –

Businesses are suffering too.

Pejman said some of his work colleagues were suspected of having the virus and ordered to stay away at home.

“It has had a bad effect on our company. They now test our temperatures every morning before we enter the office,” he said.

The economic slowdown was tangible on the streets.

Shop assistants passed the time by playing games, cleaners meticulously wiped down the doors and windows of empty restaurants, and taxis sat idle on the side of the road waiting for customers.

“The streets are empty,” Jamshidi said as his taxi driver colleagues shared a meal and engaged in rowdy banter.

“It’s my job to… take people where they need to go, but nobody is leaving their homes to go anywhere,” he told AFP.

“If the situation remains like this, we won’t have enough money to eat. Yesterday I earned very little and so far today I haven’t had any passengers.”

Hamid Bayot, who owns a juice shop on Vanat Square, said sales were down by 80 percent since the coronavirus outbreak emerged last month.

And that is despite steps the business has taken to reassure its customers.

“We disinfect everything three times every day. But people are frightened and haven’t been buying anything from us,” said Bayot.

“If the situation remains like this, we’ll go bankrupt and we will have to close our shop.”

In an apparent bid to cure the boredom of youths, state television has been airing light-hearted shows on its typically austere news channel.

It has shown blooper home videos in the past few days and on Monday it broadcast a Pink Panther cartoon as well as the trailer of The Revenant, a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

“We have to stay at home and do nothing. We can’t see our friends and we are no longer happy,” Parmis said grudgingly through the face mask given to her by her mother.

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