According to the latest reports from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the death toll from coronavirus outbreaks in Iran has now surpassed 400,000. The MEK maintains an extensive intelligence network inside Iran and has been tracking the effects of Covid-19, as well as the regime’s response to the crisis since the pandemic began.
As the MEK has revealed the regime has been downplaying the rates of both infection and death, specifically as a means of covering up the impact of its own contributions to those figures – both intentional and unintentional.
Undoubtedly, the regime officials put the population at increased risk soon after the novel coronavirus arrived in Iran from China. In fact, the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei deliberately facilitated the spread of the Covid-19 in order to discourage large-scale gatherings in the wake of two nationwide uprisings.
Khamenei described the coronavirus as a “blessing” in remarks to fellow officials. It was the regime’s early embrace of that “blessing” that allowed regime officials to proceed with planned public events in February 2020 commemorating the anniversary of the regime’s founding and mourning the death of Tehran’s top terrorist operative, Qassem Soleimani.
At the time of those events, no one in Iran’s government had acknowledged the risk of coronavirus infection in any Iranian cities or towns. Yet documents that were later obtained by the MEK indicated that Iran’s National Emergency Organization had already recorded instances of community spread several weeks earlier. The regime was concerned about losing out on a valuable source of propaganda in the form of widespread participation in government-managed public events.
Participation in those events was strongly encouraged and was even mandated for some government employees. Other citizens were provided with free transportation to Tehran and other major cities in exchange for appearing before state television cameras, and in absence of any public warnings about the potential spread of coronavirus, few of them had any disincentive to availing themselves of those opportunities.
While the majority of people refused to participate in these shows, those who were either forced or bribed in to participate became the host of this deadly virus.
Thus, these gatherings helped to kick Iran’s coronavirus outbreak into high gear. This goes a long way toward explaining why those outbreaks are by far the worst in the region, even when judged only by the questionable, official statistics coming from the regime’s Health Ministry.
When the regime made its first public statement regarding the presence of coronavirus in mid-February, local authorities in hard-hit areas were reporting that morgues were already overburdened with dozens of excess deaths. Yet for days afterward, Tehran continued to insist that the death toll for the entire country was still in the single digits.
The official death toll currently stands at more than 100,000, and the regime has been compelled to adopt various interventions along the way. On the other hand, lockdowns have been short-lived and weakly enforced, and financial support for the civilian population has been non-existent.
This has nothing to do with sanctions, as Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps each have direct control over hundreds of billions of dollars, which they have continued to either hoard or channel toward missile development and the financing of regional proxies throughout the public health crisis. Worse still, one departing Health Ministry official recently told a state media outlet that concerns over cost apparently prompted authorities to avoid purchasing well-studied and highly effective vaccines once they become available.
In fact, Khamenei officially banned the purchase of vaccines from the United States, Britain, and France in January, forcing the country to rely on the unproven alternatives from China and Russia, as well as doses that were developed and manufactured domestically. All of these have fallen short of distribution goals, and now Iran’s vaccination rate remains under five percent. But due to the endemic corruption and the fact that Khamenei took vaccine distribution out of the Health Ministry’s hands and assigned it to a network of largely IRGC-run private companies, the vaccination rate is much higher among government officials and other persons with elite connections.
Although the regime promised that vaccine doses would be free to all citizens, many of them have appeared on the black market with price tags running into the thousands of dollars. Iran’s public health crisis is already being exacerbated by rates of poverty that affect the vast majority of the population. People are forced to continue working to the best of their ability, thereby putting themselves at increased risk while they wait for vaccines that may be many months away.
That being the case the real death toll in Iran will continue climbing at something similar to its current pace. Even Tehran acknowledges that daily death tolls are routinely over 100. Given the regime’s longstanding commitment to public disinformation, this is a chilling sign of how serious the underlying crisis really is.
In recent weeks, Khamenei has stepped back from his ban on foreign vaccines, this is merely a ploy to stave off the sort of public backlash that he was in fear of when he first embraced coronavirus outbreaks as a “blessing.” The ongoing Covid-19 outbreak is no longer a potential tool to contain political unrest, it has also become a new source of public grievances. This being the case, it is fair to say that Covid-19 has trapped the regime between a rock and a hard place. If that regime is even capable of countering the adverse effects it has had on the public health situation, it now faces a choice between either freeing the public from the threat of infection or else keeping them in fear of public gatherings while giving them still more reasons to stage another uprising once the crisis final recedes.