Iran: The novel coronavirus outbreak
According to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK) as of Wednesday, there have been more than 50,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus in Iran. Of course, the Iranian regime has acknowledged only a fraction of that number.
The official death toll remains below 9,000, while numerous pandemic-related fatalities have been swept under the rug after being categorized by the regime’s health officials as deaths from generic causes like cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.
The regime’s undercount is further justified by a lack of testing. Shortages of testing kits have even plagued wealthier, Western countries. But in Iran, such shortages are welcomed or even manufactured. In recent weeks, the Iranian regime’s officials have taken to boasting about the country’s plans to export domestically-produced medical equipment related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This of course deprives the Iranian population of resources that they desperately need at a time when their daily increase in cases is rising beyond a two-month-high, even according to the regime’s own figures.
The renewed growth of Iran’s outbreak is the inevitable result of a premature reopening of the nation’s economy by the mullahs’ regime. Ordinary domestic activities were put on pause only briefly, from late March to early April. By then, it had been widely recognized that Iran was by far the worst affected country in the Middle East. And judging by estimates coming from sources like the National Council of Resistance of Iran, it was also one of the worst affected countries in the entire world.
The COVID-19 crisis in Iran has aggravated since the NCRI first confirmed that Iran’s outbreak had begun much earlier than the regime acknowledged and had grown to encompass roughly six times as many deaths as Tehran was reporting. Recently, the World Health Organization’s emergency director for the Middle East, Dr. Rick Brennan, came very close to endorsing the NCRI’s findings. After returning from a mission in Iran, he determined that the government mortality figures, which continue to be cited by global media, represented something like one-fifth of the actual total.
From time to time, some of the regime’s officials, fearing the post-coronavirus situation and the restive society, during the regime’s infightings have even broken with the official narrative. In some cases, their public statements seemed designed to sound the alarm about a crisis that was not being taken seriously by the regime, with potentially fatal consequences for tens or even hundreds of thousands of citizens. In other cases, government entities have seemingly slipped up by making internal reports available to the public, and have attempted to walk them back afterward.
The latter phenomenon apparently occurred in mid-April when a publication from the Parliamentary Research Center made international headlines by suggesting that the total number of coronavirus cases in Iran was probably twice the number that had been reported. Desperately trying to cover up this incident, the regime’s lawmakers were quick to issue a statement alleging that the regime’s “enemies” had misrepresented the PRC’s study. No clarification was offered to explain how such misrepresentation was achieved via direct quotations from the document.
The impulse to retract critical statements is no doubt growing stronger, as Tehran has responded with rising levels of aggression to those who openly and knowingly contradict official narratives. The regime’s authorities have acknowledged arresting hundreds of individuals for “rumor mongering” on the topic of coronavirus. They also specified very early on that this “crime” would be punished by up to three years in prison, plus flogging. And as with any act of dissent against the clerical regime, there is always a potential for the punishment to be much more severe.
In another example, the Iranian regime’s Health Ministry announced on Tuesday the dismissal of its spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour, Jahanpour’s latest remarks could be the reason for its dismissal. Jahanpour’s remarks in response to the remarks of Minoo Mohrez, a member of the regime’s Coronavirus Task Force committee, has said that 20 percent of Iranians are infected with the coronavirus angered the regime’s Ministry of Health and highlighted the regime’s cover-up. Jahanpour had said: “No, the correct figure is less than 10 percent.” Jahanpour’s 10 percent or less means that there will be 7.5 million infected people, and if we consider the death rate based on 3%, the death toll will be 225,000. Saeed Namaki, the regime’s Health Minister, after Jahanpour’s dismissal said: “Jahanpour needed to coordinate with me, before saying things in the media.”
Because the MEK and NCRI have been tracking the true infection and mortality rates throughout the pandemic, it would be fairly easy for the regime’s judiciary to decide that any corroboration, whether by government officials or private citizens, is an example of “assembly and collusion against national security.” Therefore, supposed collaborators could even be declared guilty of “enmity against God,” a capital offense.
The risk of such reprisal grows every day, as the gap widens between the regime’s official coronavirus statistics and independent reporting. The more people are aware of that gap, the more likely it is that nationwide protests erupt once again, as it did at the beginning of 2018 and in November 2019. In both those cases, nationwide uprisings were sparked by economic news that helped to expose the regime’s lack of concern for the people’s welfare. But the botched government response to the coronavirus outbreak puts this message in even more stark terms.
As the NCRI has repeatedly pointed out, the Iranian regime had ample resources to support Iranian citizens during this difficult time. By tapping into the hundreds of billions of dollars that are personally controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), that regime could have extended its lockdown well past the April 11 end date, thereby slowing the spread of disease and helping Iranian doctors and nurses to provide more effective care to those who had already been hospitalized.
Many health workers in Iran have confirmed that suspected coronavirus cases are not counted toward the death toll and that testing is not carried out on those whose symptoms are less severe. Many have also described wholly overwhelmed hospitals, with dozens of deaths being recorded per day and all ICU beds occupied.
This stands in direct contradiction to the public statements offered by the regime’s President Hassan Rouhani, who is still desperately trying to paint a rosy picture of the regime’s response and the status of the outbreak. Rouhani has explicitly declared that intensive care units are empty, while his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has argued that Iran’s management of the situation ought to be a model for other countries, even Western democracies.
Such rhetoric is not even supported by the regime’s official coronavirus numbers. It is made ridiculous by the more accurate accounts provided by the NCRI, the MEK, the medical professions, and other eyewitnesses. Their voices should be given the international attention that has so far been reserved for the heavily skewed reports of the Iranian Health Ministry. Not only will the alternative information encourage Iranian citizens to better protect themselves; it will undermine a key aspect of the regime’s scheme to hold onto power.
In the face of tens of thousands of preventable deaths, it will be all the more obvious that Tehran is overlooking the vital needs of people in order to avoid redirecting any of its resources away from projects aimed at exporting the Islamic revolution and confronting Western adversaries. These misplaced priorities were precisely the source of public grievances during the previous two years’ uprisings. Those demonstrations already gave rise to chants of “death to the dictator” and to unequivocal demands for regime change. Despite threats of retaliation by security forces and Revolutionary Guards, those demands are all but certain to resurface when it becomes impossible for Tehran to go on denying the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.
The public health crisis did not need to be this bad. The same can be said of virtually all the crises the Iranian people have faced in recent years. Recent unrest shows that people recognize the roots of their problems in the theocratic system. And even amid the global pandemic, The Iranian Resistance, particularly the MEK’s Resistance Units are working tirelessly to bring that system to an end.