Iran today announced four more deaths from coronavirus, with 44 new cases diagnosed in an outbreak spreading the virus in the Middle East.
The latest deaths bring the official census to 19 deaths from 139 cases, although the very high death rate has given rise to the suspicion that the figures of the regime are too low.
Of the 44 new cases, 15 were in the holy city of Qom, where the outbreak first appeared, with four in the capital, Tehran.
Despite the growing crisis, Iran has refused to put Qom in quarantine, with the Ministry of Health today urging Iranians not to travel there.
Meanwhile, the Iranian Deputy Health Minister, who was diagnosed with coronavirus yesterday, has vowed that the regime will “be victorious in our fight against this virus.”
Iraj Harirchi was quarantined yesterday in embarrassment for the regime after he had insisted a day earlier – while he was sweating heavily at a press conference – that Iran was handling the crisis.
Health workers in Tehran are cleaning a subway this morning in an attempt to stop the corona virus outbreak that has spread from Iran across the Middle East
An employee from Tehran City Council is today cleaning a bus with the Iranian regime in the background for the growing corona virus crisis
A map showing how the coronavirus outbreak has spread from Iran across the Middle East to countries such as Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today that Tehran had no plans to quarantine cities to control the outbreak.
Rouhani admitted that it can take ‘one, two or three weeks’ to gain control of the virus in Iran, which is linked to almost all cases in the Middle East.
However, Rouhani also tried to change Iranian anger against the United States and said that the virus “should not be turned into a weapon for our enemies to stop work and production in our country.”
“The Americans and our enemies during this period, of which about two years have passed, wanted to use their sanctions and propaganda to halt production and economic activities in this country and make people suffer,” he said.
The Iranian economy has been battered by US sanctions since Donald Trump stopped the nuclear deal in 2015, contributing to mask shortages and medical test kits.
The shrine of Fatima Masumeh in Qom, which has remained open and is disinfected daily, attracts Shiites from Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Bahrain and other countries.
Several neighboring countries of Iran have closed their borders and prohibited flights from Iran due to fear of the virus, which could further harm Iran’s already fragile economy.
Bahrain now has 26 cases, while Kuwait has 18, the UAE 13, Iraq five, Oman two and Afghanistan one.
Flights between Iran and the UAE have been suspended, while Bahrain has also blocked flights from Dubai.
About 100 Pakistani, mostly Shiite pilgrims, are quarantined in a government building in Pakistan after their return from Iran, where they had visited holy places.
However, Iran’s national broadcaster yesterday saw the streets of Qom swarm with crowds trying to downplay the virus while a woman was being interviewed and said she had recovered from the virus.
Also associated with the virus outbreak is the city of Mashhad, where Imam Reza’s shrine attracts around 20 million people a year.
Kuwait has reported that five travelers returning from Mashhad tested positive for the virus, but Iran has yet to confirm a single case in the city.
The Iranian Deputy Health Minister who was diagnosed with coronavirus yesterday, swore in a video (photo) that the regime “will overcome in our fight against this virus”
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s Deputy Minister of Health, was diagnosed with coronavirus just a day after he appeared at a press conference that was sweating violently and insisting that the country had the outbreak under control
People walk in front of the shrine of Fatima Masumeh in Qom, the Shiite holy city in the center of the corona virus outbreak in Iran
Women with protective masks get off a bus in Tehran yesterday amid claims that the Iranian regime is hiding the true extent of the crisis
Ministry of Health spokesperson, Kianoush Jahanpour, today called on Iranians to refrain from traveling when he announced the new messages on state television.
Iran has closed schools, universities, cultural centers, sporting events and deployed teams of plumbing staff to disinfect buses, trains and public spaces.
But despite the rapid spread of coronavirus, the authorities have so far dismissed quarantine as an option to control the outbreak.
According to Jahanpour, the situation in Qom was “improving.”
However, Jahanpour said that it could take at least until the Persian New Year’s holiday on March 20, or until the end of April, to control the disease. “We don’t expect a miracle in the short term,” he said.
Health minister Namaki Saeed yesterday defended the decision not to block Qom, and said that quarantine is an “old method.”
“We still disagree with quarantining cities because we believe people are civilized enough not to travel from contaminated cities to other places,” said semi-official news agency ISNA.
Bahram Sarmast, the governor of Qom, said that quarantining the city would not be an “appropriate solution” despite the outbreak.
Iran’s claims that the virus is under control lost credibility yesterday when the Deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, was taken into quarantine.
The day before, the minister had not looked good and was sweating heavily during a press conference where he insisted that the outbreak was not as bad as feared.
In a following video, Haririchi confirmed that he was infected with the virus and quarantined himself at home.
“I wanted to tell you, rest assured that with the efforts of your ministry at the Ministry of Health … and supported by your people, the government and all elements of the establishment, we will overcome in our fight against this virus in the coming weeks, “Harirchi said.
Iranians are waiting for a prescription last week in a state-run pharmacy in Tehran, amid shortages of medical supplies that were already underway before the corona virus outbreak
An Iranian customer wearing a face mask talks to a pharmacist in a store in Tehran yesterday because of shortages of medical supplies including test kits
An Iranian man wears protective masks to prevent him from getting a corona virus while he is on the bus in Tehran
Professor Paul Hunter, a medical professor at the University of East Anglia, said the situation in Iran was more worrying than in all other countries that “experience significant clusters.”
“The number of new cases reported every day has increased rapidly over the past week,” he said.
“At this stage, however, it is impossible to say how many more cases there are but have not yet been identified. Iran probably does not have the facilities to identify, diagnose and manage a large number of cases and contacts with the same efficiency as other affected countries.
“Moreover, the country is in a region with different areas with armed conflicts.
‘During conflicts, many people will move around the region, borders are relatively porous and urban and health facilities are often damaged or destroyed.
“We have already seen spread from Iran to neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Afghanistan and this is likely to continue.
“If COVID-19 begins to spread in conflict areas such as Syria or in areas such as Gaza, it will be very difficult to control and this can reinforce the epidemic.
“The Middle East is connected to countries around the world, and if the epidemic continues to grow and spread in Iran, it is a global threat and not just in the region.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (photo) said today that Tehran had no plans to quarantine cities to control the outbreak
A masked health worker cleans a bus in Iran, which today announced four additional coronavirus deaths with 44 new cases diagnosed East
A health worker disinfects seats in a bus in Tehran, where four new cases were confirmed today, following an outbreak that began in the holy city of Qom
Even according to official figures, Iran has the worst outbreak in the Middle East and the highest death toll outside of China with 19 confirmed fatalities.
However, there are fears that the true image could be higher. Worldwide, two percent of coronavirus cases lead to death – but the figures for Iran show a suspiciously high death rate of 14 percent.
Further fears were expressed on Monday when a lawmaker claimed that 50 people had died of the disease in Qom alone. Harirchi, the health minister who has since been diagnosed with the virus, denied this.
Farahani said the 50 deaths in Qom date from February 13, while Iran first officially reported cases of the virus on February 19.
He also claimed that 250 people were quarantined in the city, which is approximately 120 kilometers south of Tehran.
“None of the nurses have access to the right protective equipment,” Farahani said, adding that some healthcare specialists had left the city.
“So far I have not seen any specific action to confront the corona by the government.”
Iran was confronted with anger from its own citizens about an attempt to cover up last month, after falsely claiming that a passenger plane with dozens of Iranians aboard had crashed by accident.
The plane was actually shot by Iranian Revolutionary Guards at the height of Tehran’s distance from Washington after the death of Qassem Soleimani.
The outbreak of the corona virus has in recent days brought new criticism of the regime from Iranian social media users.
“A widespread public distrust of official figures is more dangerous than the corona virus,” said journalist Siavash Fallahpour.