The coronavirus in Iran

A week and a half ago, I wrote about how the Wuhan coronavirus had spread in a big way to Iran and had infected some prominent members of the regime. Since, then, as one would expect, things have gotten worse.

The official count is 92 deaths and 3,000 known infections. However, few put any faith in these numbers. According to the Washington Post:

[D]ata obtained from a group of hospitals in Tehran strongly suggests that the epidemic has spread even more than the government has acknowledged.

About a dozen hospitals in the capital city have reported 80 deaths from the coronavirus during the six days ending Wednesday, according to records from the medical centers. And these hospitals represent only a small fraction of the total in Tehran.

The data set — including demographic details and status of the cases — shows a 17 percent surge in deaths between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Keep in mind that Tehran is not the epicenter of Iran’s outbreak. The epicenter is “the holy city” of Qom. This is thought to be the reason that the virus hit Iran’s ruling elite so quickly. Iran’s top clerics have close ties to the nation’s “spiritual center” and top clergymen and policymakers travel frequently between Qom and Tehran.

Aerial photos of Qom show evidence that a massive grave site has been constructed to bury victims of the coronavirus. The size of the burial space belied government claims that only 34 people had died of the virus in Qom as of the end of last month. You can see the aerial photos here.

Critics argue that the Iranian regime’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus has contributed to the spread of the illness. Nurses say some medical staff members were prevented from wearing masks to avoid causing panic. In addition, during the early days of the outbreak, officials reportedly rebuffed calls for quarantines, urged Iranians to participate in national elections, and balked at closing holy shrines to the public.

Kamiar Alaei, an expert on communicable diseases and global health policy at the University of Oxford, contends that the regime “downplayed the seriousness of the disease and misled and misinformed the health system.” As a result, medical professionals “were not prepared, and a lot of doctors and nurses were infected due to unexpected exposure,” Alaei says. “There was clear mismanagement and the elevation of political interests above health concerns, which resulted in the outbreak.”

It’s always easy to second guess a government’s response to an unexpected crisis like this one, and it’s inevitable that not all of a government’s decisions will be the right ones. That’s true of the U.S. response to the Wuhan coronavirus.

However, the criticism of Iran’s response goes beyond second guessing and expecting perfection. It describes outright deceit and wanton disregard for the health of Iranians.

What is the current scope of the pandemic in Iran? Given the unreliability of government figures, no one knows for sure. However, based on the figures from Tehran, Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious-disease epidemiologist, estimated that the current outbreak in Iran has already reached 28,000 cases with many more to come. That’s nearly 10 times more than the regime admits to.

I hope the coronavirus epidemic abates soon in Iran. I also hope that Iranians long remember the mullahs’ disgraceful response to the epidemic.

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