Judging by the official numbers coming from the Iranian regime, Iran is currently suffering through one of the top ten worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world. But the official estimates both for the death toll and for the total number of cases are highly suspect. Independent reporting suggests that the Iranian outbreak may be the single worst in the world. The full extent of the impact on Iranians may not be known until long after the pandemic is over, unless unfettered international monitoring breaks through the clerical regime’s disinformation.
Make no mistake, Iran’s low official estimates are not just the result of incomplete testing or the slow pace of assembling nationwide records. The regime has been deliberately lying about the situation in order to protect its own reputation and advance its own aims since day one.
This trend began with an outright cover-up of the first known instances of coronavirus infection. Last month, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK) obtained documents from Iran’s National Emergency Organization which showed that employees of the Chinese embassy had been admitted to hospital with suspected coronavirus infection. The first such reports were registered no later than the last week of January, yet regime authorities made no official acknowledgment of a domestic outbreak of Covid-19 until February 19.
Even then – and even though at least two patients had already died – the regime went to great lengths to downplay the risk to the public. Regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei even went so far as to dismiss public health concerns as the product of propaganda and psychological warfare by Western “enemies.” He and other regime’s top officials fiercely urged Iranians of all ages and health conditions to take part in sham parliamentary elections on February 21.
Furthermore, the regime had already facilitated the rapid spread of coronavirus ten days earlier, when it mandated that government employees attend celebrations of the 41st anniversary of the Revolution. Poor residents of rural Iranian towns were paid to travel into Tehran for the same events, thereby allowing them to take the novel coronavirus back to their local communities before most people were aware of its existence.
This series of events not only help to cast doubt on the regime’s official narrative of the coronavirus outbreak; they also highlight its motive for keeping the real extent of that outbreak under wraps. By acknowledging that the situation is out of control, the regime would effectively be admitting its own culpability, thus cause a social turmoil.
The result has been difficult to credibly conceal. While regime reports that approximately 80,000 people have gotten sick with Covid-19 and that roughly 5,000 have died, these figures have never been taken very seriously around the globe. What’s more, there are growing signs of dissent over those figures even within the Iranian regime itself. Early in April, one member of the Health Ministry task force assigned to the coronavirus outbreak suggested that something like half a million Iranians had already contracted the disease. And this past week, regime’s Parliamentary Research Center issued a report that acknowledged prior under-counting and concluded that the true number of coronavirus-related deaths could be twice as high as reported.
Press TV, regime’s English-language propaganda network, quickly attempted to rebut Western media’s handling of that report. It quoted the outgoing director of the Parliamentary Research Center as saying that the report was only intended to clarify the probability of false-negative Covid-19 tests and that it “in no way confirmed” the even higher infection rates and death tolls being reported in some foreign media. But this clarification still supports the conclusion that official estimates from Tehran are no more reliable than those picked up by foreign media.
In fact, some of those reports appear much more credible in light of their alignment with the information coming out of Iranian hospitals. While regime’s President, Hassan Rouhani has boasted to state media about a durable health care system and empty beds in intensive care units, doctors and nurses have risked arrest by speaking to independent journalists or appearing on social media with stories of dozens of patient deaths in a single hospital, on a single day.
It is partly on the basis of these eyewitness accounts and its vast network inside Iran that the MEK has assembled its own estimates of Iran’s total coronavirus infection rate and death toll. The MEK has been tracking the likely impact of the outbreak since February and was able to conclude that the half-million figure cited by the coronavirus task force was probably surpassed in early March. And after comparing its own estimates to those making the rounds on Iranian social media, the MEK has concluded that the current death toll stands somewhere between five and ten times higher than the regime’s estimate of 5,000.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran and, the MEK’s, assessments of the coronavirus outbreak are thus a better starting point for the international community than the numbers coming out of Tehran. But the fact remains that a full understanding of the situation demands direct access to the country by the World Health Organization and other impartial experts.
Of course, if history is any guide, the country’s theocratic rulers will never allow this. The secrecy only underscores the fact that they have much to hide. When the full truth finally comes out, it will no doubt spoil the mullahs’ conspiracy to safeguard their regime.
As NCRI’s president-elect, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi said: “Today, regime change in Iran is indispensable not only to freedom and democracy in Iran but also to the health of each and every individual in Iran and to the protection of their houses, cities and villages against natural disasters.”
Today, regime change in Iran is indispensable not only to freedom and democracy in #Iran but also to the health of each and every individual in Iran and to the protection of their houses, cities and villages against natural disasters #FreeIran2020 #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/MNqb0SDGOW
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) April 8, 2020