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Iran’s Regime Still Refuses to Change Public Health Policy as COVID-19 Cases Reach New Heights

Coronavirus outbreak in Iran

The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK) announced on Thursday that nearly 50,000 people have lost their lives due to the coronavirus pandemic in Iran.  

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Iranian regime recorded its largest official rise in new cases of COVID-19 since reaching an early peak two months earlier. The latest engineered figures also marked the continuation of a month-long growth trend in coronavirus infection, starting at the point when the regime reported its lowest level of active cases since the outbreak began escalating in early March. 

After nearing that threshold on Sunday, the Iranian regime’s health authorities have begun recording more than 3,000 new cases per day, bringing the total to more than 160,000 by Wednesday. The regime’s official death toll surpassed 8,000 on the same day, as 70 fatal cases were recorded over the preceding 24-hour period. However, critics of the Iranian regime have continually expressed skepticism about official government figures, and independent reporting supports the idea that Tehran is drastically downplaying the severity of the crisis. 

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has tracked Iranian infection and mortality rates throughout the pandemic. In doing so, the coalition has relied on information gathered by the MEK, as well as eyewitness testimony from Iranian medical professionals and other citizens.  

In March, the MEK obtained documents from Iran’s National Emergency Organization which demonstrated that the novel coronavirus had reached Iran much earlier than the regime’s authorities acknowledged. Although Tehran’s first public statement on the matter identified two fatalities from the supposedly new outbreak on February 19, other individuals had been hospitalized in January and had almost certainly spread it to others before the disease came to be well-known among the public. 

Within about a week of the government’s statement, one local official in the city of Qom reported that 50 local residents had died of COVID-19. Meanwhile, authorities continued to insist that there had been only about a dozen fatalities across the entire country. Although the regime’s numbers began to increase afterward, the discrepancy was never corrected in any meaningful way. Instead, it seems that a lack of initial reporting established a gap between official and independent estimates, which authorities made no effort to close. 

The NCRI’s reports on the epidemic have updated their raw numbers on a daily basis. But there has been little change in the magnitude of the regime’s apparent underreporting. Throughout May and now into the first days of June, the official death toll has been roughly one-sixth of that reported by the NCRI. If this trend continues, then it would suggest that the Iranian regime’s Health Ministry is rather forcefully but correctly recording that a spike in cases is underway, but is consistently misrepresenting the details about that spike. 

And these details may include more than the number or the geographic distribution of new cases. In the face of increasing rates of infection, Iranian regime officials have taken to creating narratives about the cause of that phenomenon which reflects positively on the government’s public health policies, but negatively on the private citizens most affected by the outbreak. 

On Tuesday, the Iranian regime’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki blatantly blamed the recent trends on “the fact that people have become completely careless regarding this disease.” His comments did not appear to recognize either the fact of the regime’s own carelessness in setting policy in this regard or the recent efforts by some officials to diminish public concerns about the threat of the virus. 

Even as Namaki was blaming the people rising infection rather than regime’s deception, inaction and cover-up, the regime’s President Hassan Rouhani bragged that Iran is in an “acceptable situation” with regard to the coronavirus. After proclaiming that its reproduction rate was “less than one,” signifying progress toward eradication despite the ongoing spike, Rouhani stated that the conditions were “not even fragile” anymore. It would surely be difficult for anyone to take these words seriously and still conclude that their own actions could contribute to a significant rise in new cases. 

Even Namaki seemed to partially endorse Rouhani’s rosy outlook when he described the situation as “completely stable” in 27 of Iran’s 31 provinces. Two of those provinces saw restrictions on social activity and travel re-imposed last month, and authorities have paid lip-service to the notion of tightening controls in other areas, too. But in keeping with their narrative of government competence and public non-compliance, they have emphasized that this would only happen if ordinary citizens failed to abide by the regime’s standards. 

Engulfed by various crises and being under economic pressure, the regime forced people back to work. This decision was in line with the objective of “boosting production” ahead of policies to fund the regime, especially IRGC oppression and global export of terrorism. 

The re-opening of the economy began on April 11. The plans for that reopening had been met with warnings from independent experts who predicted that something akin to the present spike in cases would inevitably result. These warnings were fueled by the widespread belief that Iran had been under-counting the infected and the dead, as well as by the fact that even the official estimates failed to show a sustained plateau before re-opening plans went into effect. 

At the start of the Iranian calendar year in March, when the coronavirus outbreak was officially well underway, Ali Khamenei delivered a speech in which he declared it the “year of boosting production,” thereby establishing domestic economic development as a major priority or rather regime’s economic shortcomings and need for money to fund its illicit activities, if not the single most important issue for his subordinates. 

Not only did this prompt the regime’s authorities to press forward with a premature re-opening plan; it also helped to delay the initial closure for much longer than in every surrounding country. As a consequence, Iran quickly developed the worst coronavirus outbreak in the entire region, even as judged only by the official infection and mortality rates. 

While leading Iranian regime’s officials have blatantly blamed the early spread of COVID-19 on a lack of discipline among the people, they have also never expressed regret or uncertainty about their own policies. More than that, the regime’s Health Minister shamelessly said on Tuesday that citizens might be failing to take precautions regarding the virus because they, too, have “total confidence” in the authorities to contain the crisis. As a second option, he presented the possibility that Iranians are resuming normal activity because they think the coronavirus has already effectively disappeared. 

Namaki did not publicly consider a likely third option, that many Iranians simply have no choice but to resume normal economic activity in line with the re-opening. Although authorities like the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps wield personal control over hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, the regime has made nothing available to the public in the form of financial assistance during the crisis. The NCRI concluded from this fact that Tehran placed itself in a position whereby they had no choice but to send people back to work or else risk renewed public unrest as an already impoverished people began to experience homelessness and starvation. 

For the sake of avoiding that risk to its own hold on power, the regime knowingly forced people back to work to avoid a nationwide uprising by the Iranian people due to their economic problems and harsh living conditions, which are the result of the regime’s wrong economic policies. Amidst all of his efforts to blame those citizens for their own plight, Namaki acknowledged on Monday that the official death tolls could soon reach triple digits again, given the current conditions. 

Of course, the NCRI has been recording triple-digit death tolls quite consistently since the outbreak hit its strike in March. Just a week after the country supposedly hit its low point for new cases, the NCRI highlighted daily fatalities in excess of 300 individuals. On account of the regime’s apparent unwillingness to change course even when its own, low and engineered figures are beginning to show major spikes, the Resistance has long advocated for the World Health Organization and/or other experts to provide an independent assessment of Iran’s health situation and to potentially take over management of the outbreak.