Iran and COVID-19: Timing Matters

PRIO Policy Brief

Palik, Júlia (2020) Iran and COVID-19: Timing Matters, MidEast Policy Brief, 5. Oslo: PRIO.

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Iran was the immediate epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Middle East and among the most severely hit countries globally. Despite having the highest number of cases and deaths in the region, Iran was late to enforce lockdown measures and early to resume economic activity. Tehran’s reluctance to impose a comprehensive lockdown was driven by its lack of capacity to provide economic support to its population. Iran could not afford severe lockdown measures due to US sanctions, a significant decrease in oil prices, and the leadership’s fears of stirring domestic protest. The lack of effective lockdown, compounded by the regime’s concealment of credible information, led to severe outbreaks of the virus and significantly impacted the population’s trust in government.

COVID-19 in the Middle East: Different Regimes, Different Responses

​In May, a new PRIO Middle East Centre project started. The project, entitled 'Reacting to COVID-19 Across the MENA region', aims to explore how Middle East states reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic and what these varied reactions say about the regimes in question, combining statistical analysis of regional patterns with five case studies: Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and Palestine. The case studies are published in the MidEast Policy Brief series, with an accompanying PRIO Paper presenting the statistical analysis.

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