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Iran Raises Coronavirus Estimates, but Disinformation Persists

Iran: Outbreak of Coronavirus
Iran: Outbreak of Coronavirus

The picture continued to develop on Tuesday of the Iranian regime’s botched response to an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus that began to emerge from China. A day earlier, Iranian authorities vigorously denied that the situation was worse than they had previously reported.


But as of Tuesday, a local official in Qom continued to stick to his story after having told the media that 50 people had died from the disease in that city alone. 

Up to that point, the national government’s official statements acknowledged only 12 deaths among Iranian citizens, out of 47 cases spanning the entire country. But after the disputed disclosures from Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani had made headlines, the regime revised both estimates. The number of acknowledged fatalities was changed from 12 to 15, and then to 16. Late on Monday, these were said to have emerged from 61 known infections, but on Tuesday that number had risen to 95. 

This ratio was still out of step with the global mortality rate for Covid-19. And this suggests that the regime may still be concealing of misidentifying instances of non-fatal infection, in order to give the impression that the contagion is being effectively monitored and controlled. That was also the obvious intention behind a press conference that was held on Monday, with the participation of Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi.

But in stroke of remarkable irony, Harirchi was captured on video coughing, blowing his nose, and wiping sweat off his brow during that press conference – all signs of coronavirus infection. And in a video shared on social media the following day, he admitted that he had tested positive for the disease and quarantined himself at home. While this will presumably prevent him from personally spreading the infection any further, various Iranian journalists were potential exposed to it at the press conference, and there was no immediate sign of their having been quarantined as well. 

If Tehran fails to keep tabs on potential vectors for the infection following that incident, it would apparently be only one in a series of such failures. The extent of the regime’s mismanagement of the crisis is still a matter of some debate, depending on which estimates a person chooses to believe. But whether or not Farahani’s estimates from the city of Qom are entirely accurate, it seems practically undeniable that Tehran’s official figures fall short of acknowledging the reality of the situation, even after their latest revision. 

One clear source of evidence for this conclusion is the fact that the Iranian regime has reported not a single case in Mashhad, the country’s second most populous city. Yet multiple cases of coronavirus infection have been recorded outside Iran in which the patient had recently spent time in Mashhad. The government of Kuwait on Tuesday raised its number of confirmed cases from three to five, and noted that all five of those infections had been identified after the individuals departed a flight from Mashhad. 

Such stories help to justify the actions that are currently being taken by Iran’s neighbors in order to stem the flow of the disease out of a country that is quickly being recognized for one of the highest rates of infection outside of China. The growing signs of an Iranian epidemic coincide with a global shift in the way health officials are talking about the prospects for containing the spread. The US, for instance, has begun to draw back from a strategy of relative isolationism while acknowledging that a worse situation is looming and that more domestic infections are practically unavoidable. 

Of course, the number of such infections can be minimized by tightening controls over travel between one nation and another where the disease is known to be actively spreading. And for Kuwait and a number of other regional countries, there is absolutely no doubt about the active nature of the infection in Iran, regardless of anything the Iranian regime says. Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Oman are all known to have recorded cases among people who were recently in Iran. Canada, too, has received at least one infected person from a flight out of Iran. 

Turkish authorities believe that at least 17 individuals recently arrived in the country from Iran while carrying Covid-19. But these persons have apparently not entered the general population, thanks to emerging containment efforts. The flight in question was originally destined for Istanbul, but was diverted to less populous Ankara. Its 132 passengers were then put under quarantine after landing, where they are scheduled to remain for 14 days. 

Qatar announced similar quarantine procedures on Monday, while several countries that share a border with Iran took steps to fully or partially halt travel over them. Those same countries are either reducing the frequencies of airline travel to and from Iran or simply stopping it altogether. The United Arab Emirates has stated that all Iranian air travel into Dubai will be forestalled for one week. But the government also publicly retained the right to extend that ban indefinitely if the situation did not improve. 

Of course, it may be difficult to tell whether the situation has improved, at least inside Iran, as long as the regime persists in its impulse to conceal the true infection rates and downplay the significance of the crisis. What’s more, some experts believe that these same impulses may continue to hamper the Iranian government’s efforts to manage the spread of the disease. In this sense, international pressure may be necessary in order to compel Iranian authorities to alter their approach. 

This conclusion was explicitly stated in a BBC report published on Tuesday. Specifically, that report highlighted the issue of closing down Shiite religious shrines. These sites remain open in Qom and Mashhad, even though the former is an acknowledged hotbed of infection and the latter is accused of functioning as a vector for the international spread of the coronavirus. 

Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran called on the UN and the World Health Organization to take actions.

I emphatically urge the UN Secretary General and the World Health Organization to prevent any delay in sending a delegation to Iran to investigate the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the number of affected patients COVID19”. Rajavi Twitted on Tuesday.

  

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