On multiple recent days, Iranian regime has officially reported more than 200 fatalities from coronavirus over a 24-hour period. In all likelihood, there have actually been more such days, starting much earlier in the country’s outbreak, that the Health Ministry has publicly acknowledged. Virtually every aspect of that public reporting has been inaccurate since the very start of the pandemic, as the regime sought to downplay its own mismanagement of the crisis while also justifying a premature and hastily implemented reopening.
Some officials are doing their best to warn about the ongoing consequences, at least to the extent that they can do so within the secretive and tightly controlled environment of the Iranian regime. Health Minister Saeed Namaki has consistently stopped short of directly contradicting the regime’s official narrative, but he has colored his public remarks with a less optimistic tone, underscoring the need for social distancing and other countermeasures while highlighting the strong potential for even more widespread infection and death.
As the official death toll exceeded 12,000, Namaki’s statements came as close to being confrontational as they are ever likely to. In a statement, he declared that he had been against the national reopening, which began on April 11 after a very brief and weakly enforced shutdown, which paled in comparison to those imposed by the governments of surrounding countries that were much less seriously affected. “Unfortunately, many did not take the warnings of me and my colleagues seriously, and so unfortunately we are now facing a new wave,” Namaki said.
But in fact it would be more accurate to say that Iran’s first wave of Covid-19 never really came to an end. The country recorded a record low number of deaths just a few weeks after the reopening began, but it has been on an upward trajectory ever since, and is now routinely exceeding the record highs from early in the outbreak. The latest numbers reflect a begrudging, if partial, acknowledgement of reality. But the value of official reporting remains hampered by an official narrative that was clearly unreliable and agenda-driven.
The extent of that unreliability is difficult to overstate. The Health Ministry was complicit in sharing false information that muddied the waters regarding the sort of risk that individual Iranians were facing. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK), obtained documents in March which demonstrated that the Health Ministry and the regime as a whole had been aware of local coronavirus infections as early as January, but had covered them up until two days before the country’s parliamentary elections.
If Namaki was opposed to the reopening plan in March, he should have been positively up in arms about the regime’s decision to deny that coronavirus had reached Iran until it had a month to develop a foothold. The recent, record-breaking statistics are no doubt a direct result of that decision. Not only did the regime prevent Iranians from understanding the magnitude of the risk; it encouraged them to gathering in large numbers at the start of the outbreak and then carry the virus back to their homes all across the country.
In February, when that virus was spreading unseen, the regime actively facilitated travel for residents of small cities and rural towns, so they could pad the numbers of participants at a celebration for the anniversary of the Revolution in Tehran. For government employees already living in the capital city, attendance at this celebration was mandatory. And as people began to grow sick in the weeks afterward, it became especially clear that state propaganda regarding the legitimacy of the theocratic regime is more important to the regime officials than anything else, including public health.
Even putting aside all the subsequent mismanagement, the refusal to provide ordinary Iranians with financial support, the criminalization of coronavirus-related “rumor mongering,” it is impossible to believe that the consequences of February’s enforced social clustering are limited to 12,000 deaths over more than four months, across the entire country. And in fact, that claim has been conclusively debunked by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has analyzed leaked documents and eyewitness testimony in order to produce regular updates about the true magnitude of the crisis.
According to the NCRI, the official mortality statistics have hardly ever exceeded one-sixth of the true number of deaths. As of Friday, that number was reported as 68,800, and there is every reason to believe that it is still growing at a much faster rate than even the regime’s most concerned officials are willing or able to acknowledge. With disinformation still so prevalent in the halls of power, there is no telling how much worse this situation may become, under the noses of the international community and the Iranian people, unless independent reporting is amplified right away.