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EghtesadOnline: The National Coronavirus Headquarters has agreed that restrictions imposed on Group II of jobs in the high-risk red and orange zones for coronavirus transmission, including Tehran’s Grand Bazaar and shopping malls, should be relaxed.

According to Qasem Noudeh-Farahani, the head of Tehran Chamber of Guilds, Group I and II will reopen as of May 8 but Group III and IV will remain closed until May 18.  

“Businesses violating the coronavirus containment measures will be subject to governmental orders requiring closure of their locations for up to three weeks,” he was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency. 

All businesses, except those providing essential goods and services (the so-called Group I of jobs, namely bakeries, supermarkets, grocery stores, car shops, chain stores, health and treatment centers, pharmacies, factories, transportation companies, public parking garages, post offices, internet service providers, press, nursery homes and print shops) were closed over the past month. 

About 1.2 million businesses belong to Group I, 1.8 million are in Group II and nearly 30,000 units are in Group III and IV. 

“Iran’s coronavirus taskforce has also banned all travel across the country from May 11 to May 15 during the Eid al-Fitr holidays (feast marking the end of the fasting month) to control the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections,” Alireza Raeisi, spokesman of NCH, was quoted as saying by IRNA.

The partial reopening comes after Tehran’s Chamber of Guilds said it won’t continue to comply with lockdown rules while banks, tax offices and municipalities remain open, Fars News Agency quoted Qasem Noudeh-Farahani, the head of the chamber, as saying. 

“Cooperation between the guilds and the government is not a one-way street. We have notified the president and senior officials with the National Coronavirus Headquarters that guilds won’t be capable of abiding by guidelines if the current situation persists, i.e., guilds and small businesses would be required to close up shop and institutions such as insurance firms, banks and tax office continue to bill them,” he said.



Massive Losses

Businesses have suffered massive losses during the lockdown.

“The coronavirus won’t be contained by the closure of guilds and small businesses. They need to operate to avert bankruptcy. The closure during this hard time of certain businesses while banks and tax offices stay open seems irrational,” Noudeh-Farahani said.  

“Businesses affiliated to Iran Chamber of Guilds have suffered as much as 3,000 trillion rials [$13.6 billion] in losses since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic,” Mohammad Baqer Mojtabaei, general secretary of the chamber, says.

According to the official, guilds suffered daily losses of 50,000 billion rials ($227 million) in lost sales during the lockdown period.



Inadequate Support

A total of 92,120 billion rials ($418 million) worth of loans have been paid to the applicants of the government’s coronavirus relief package for businesses hurt by the outbreak of Covid-19, says Hossein Mahmoudi, an official with the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare.

“Registration for coronavirus loan started at on May 9, 2020. Thus far, 513,545 applications, including 953,581 jobs, have been submitted. The total value of loans requested stands at 176,770 billion rials [$803 million], of which 92,120 billion rials or 67% have been paid,” he was quoted as saying by IRNA.

Noting that the taskforce to help offset the economic consequences of coronavirus had estimated that loan applications worth 200,000 billion rials ($909 million) were received, the official said, “As per the government’s coronavirus relief package, businesses that have been hurt directly and closed down by Covid-19 will receive 160 million rials ($727) for each worker and those which were not shut down are eligible to receive 120 million rials ($545) for each of their workers. The lending rate of these loans is 12%.”

However, only 7% of them applied for the loans backed by the government under Covid-19 relief assistance to businesses program during the first quarter of last fiscal year (March 20-June 20, 2020), Mojtabaei was quoted as saying by ISNA.

Noting that the volume of loans was negligible in relation to the losses suffered by guilds, Mojtabaei said, “The 12% lending rate was another reason behind lukewarm reception toward the government’s relief loan program. Given that the benchmark interest rate in Iran is at 18%, business owners believe that the government’s 6% interest rate subsidy is not worth the difficult application process and length of time it would take to receive the credit.”

Earlier, Iran Chamber of Guilds issued a statement expressing concerns regarding the economic implications of a new surge in Covid-19 cases, Mehr News Agency reported.

“Official figures suggest an increase in the number of new infections due to the decline in compliance with Covid-19 safety protocols during the Iranian New Year holidays. More cities and counties are falling in the high-risk red zone for coronavirus transmission and widespread closures of businesses are likely to ensue,” the statement read.

“If more cities, including Tehran, Karaj and Isfahan, move into the red zone of the country’s color-coded coronavirus framework, more than one million businesses affiliated to ICG will shut down and three million people will become jobless.” 

The statement was issued before the provincial capitals were placed on red alert.



Compliance Levels

A total of 5,202 sales outlets and workshops were closed across the country for not complying with health protocols to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic from April 21 to 28, according to the secretary of Coronavirus Combat Headquarters affiliated with Interior Ministry.

“From a total of 3.57 million businesses and sales outlets active across the country, 310,033 [9% of the total] were randomly inspected during the eight-day period, close to 1.68% of which were shut down for flouting the regulations set by the National Coronavirus Headquarters,” Babak Dinparast was also quoted as saying by IRNA.

Based on recent figures collected by Iran Chamber of Guilds, an average of 82% of Iranian businesses and sales outlets abide by the regulations and protocols set by the National Coronavirus Headquarters, secretary general of the chamber said on Wednesday.

“In some provinces, the figure declines to 50-60%. Owners of outlets not conforming to protocols preventing the spread of Covid-19 have been reprimanded and received warnings,” Mojtabaei was quoted as saying by IRIB News.

The official added that more than 3,000 sales outlets have been shut down across the country for flouting the protocols and regulations set to curb the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has been drawn out for more than a year and a half, longer than expected, and to top that the government has failed to support businesses as it should have during this period. These have made it especially hard for most businesses to keep up with new pandemic protocols since they have rents and other expenses to pay.” 

Mojtabaei concluded that Iran Chamber of Guilds implores businesses and people to continue to observe Covid-19 protocols until the fourth wave of the pandemic is over in the country.

The number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in Iran exceeded 73,900 with 338 more Iranians who died from the deadly disease over the past 24 hours, Iran's Health Ministry announced on Thursday.

A total of 338 more Iranians have died from the coronavirus disease over the past 24 hours, bringing the total deaths to 73,906.

A total of 18,409 new cases of infection with the Covid-19 were found over the past 24 hours, 2,441 of whom were hospitalized.

The Health Ministry noted that 2,057,692 patients out of a total of 2,610,018 infected people have recovered or been discharged from hospitals.

A total of 5,515 patients are in critical condition in intensive care units, it added.


Businesses COVID Grand Bazaar shopping