Iran’s Reaction to the Coronavirus: Deception and Secrecy

Courtesy+of+WBUR

AFP via Getty Images

Courtesy of WBUR

Maral Askarisirchi, Scarlet Staff

In recent weeks, Iran has been considered the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Middle East, threatening to spread to other countries in the region. However, the exact extent of the virus’s spread and the numbers reported by Iran have been speculative and vague. 

Hospital personnel and specialists have informed international media that the government is covering up the scope of the infection, denying the cover-up, and threatening its citizens and hospital officials with detainment and arrest if they communicate the true numbers to the world. While the government claims that the number of casualties is around 77, it is believed that more than 2000 citizens have been killed by Covid-19 and far more have been infected.

 After the news spread that the deputy health minister, along with nearly 23 members of the Iranian parliament, were infected with the virus, the government attempted to downplay the outbreak. They refused to shut down and quarantine religious sites, one of which was believed to be the hub of the outbreak, and sided with its clergy, putting millions of lives at risk. In the holy city of Qom, where the outbreak is believed to have started, mass worship services are still ongoing in mosques and shrines, despite concerns of a pandemic in the region.

Moreover, the government is more worried about controlling information about the virus and restricting communication between citizens than containing the outbreak itself. With security guards stationed in hospitals and forbidding the hospital personnel from disclosing information about the scope of the disease, the regime has proved to be more concerned about saving its image than taking practical steps towards controlling the virus. Physicians and testing laboratory staff have been warned that disclosing any information about the number of infected patients will be dealt with as a matter of national security, and violators will be charged with fear mongering and threats to national security. Such deceptive measures not only fail to contain the outbreak, but they also increase the pressure and stress that the personnel are already experiencing. Security agents have also been forcing physicians to fill out false certificates for deaths that appear to have been caused by Covid-19, attributing them instead to heart or lung failure to avoid acknowledging exact fatalities.

The regime’s economy has been suffering from the US sanctions. Additionally, its recent round of deception, regarding the shooting down of a passenger jet by Iran’s own air defenses, enraged the public and put the government in a vulnerable spot, bringing its domestic and public credibility to a new low. 

Amid the shortages of testing kits, as well as inefficient and incompetent measures taken to contain the outbreak, the theocratic regime announced that it has released nearly 54,000 symptom-free prisoners in an effort to minimize the contagion. Whether or not these prisoners had actually tested negative or not remains unknown, given the severe shortages of testing kits. 

The government has since issued an array of insufficient measures which reflect its mismanagement and ignorance more than anything else. From threats to execute mask and sanitizer hoarders to dispatching militiamen to go house to house and screen residents and disinfect homes, the government is scrambling around to save its public image as it has boasted of its public health prowess for decades. 

After losing China as its biggest trading partner during the first reports of the breakout in the central city of Wuhan, Iran is now facing severe shortages in preventative equipment, disinfectants, and medical supplies. 

As Iran claims the virus is a product of biological warfare initiated by the US, and its president refuses to quarantine certain regions and areas, the death toll is believed to be at least 210, with thousands of people infected. The numbers are likely to grow since the government has made health policies subservient to politics. The theocracy’s disregard for life, catastrophic management of the contagion, and deception of the public is a crime against humanity.