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Iran Censors Newspaper for Reporting on True Covid-19 Death Toll

August 13, 2020
Shahed Alavi
8 min read
Coronavirus is spreading between three and nine times faster than it had been previously, warned Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi
Coronavirus is spreading between three and nine times faster than it had been previously, warned Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi
The National Coronavirus Taskforce rejected requests to postpone nationwide university entrance exams
The National Coronavirus Taskforce rejected requests to postpone nationwide university entrance exams
The situation in Tehran is unstable, says the director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce
The situation in Tehran is unstable, says the director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce

Iran shut down a newspaper on August 10 after it published an interview about the true numbers of deaths from Covid-19 and the government’s failure to warn the public early enough.

"The figures announced by the officials on coronavirus cases and deaths account for only five percent of the country’s real tolls,” epidemiologist Mohammadreza Mahboub-Far told the newspaper in an interview, which was published on Sunday, August 9.

“The Jahan-e Sanat newspaper was shut down today for publishing an interview on Sunday,” the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Mohammadreza Saadi, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). 

Mahboub-Far, a former member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, also said authorities had detected that the coronavirus was present in Iran in January, and yet Iran announced its first infections and two deaths from the virus on February 19.

“There was no transparent flow of information...The government provided engineered figures...over concerns about (its impact) on the election and the commemorations of the revolution anniversary,” Mahboub-Far told the daily.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ehsan Mostafavi, the head of Iran's Pasteur Institute research center, corroborated Mahboub-Far's statements about the early outbreak in Iran, agreeing that the virus began spreading a month before the official announcement in February. According to studies carried out by the health ministry, he said, as of August 10, 20 to 25 percent of Iran’s population had been infected with coronavirus.

Mostafavi said it was possible that people could be re-infected with coronavirus and warned that coronavirus is four to five times more lethal than the seasonal flu. He added that, across the world, it is assumed that the number of coronavirus cases is dozens or even hundreds times larger than official figures and that fatalities are higher than what the World Health Organization has announced.

More young people are becoming infected with coronavirus than at the time the epidemic began, reported Dr. Khosrow Sadeghniat, president of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Hospital. He said both the number of patients in critical condition who need hospitalization and number of health workers who have been infected rise every day.


More Experts Ignored as Exams Set to Go Ahead

After several weeks of political wrangling, on August 11, the National Coronavirus Taskforce announced that nationwide university entrance exams will go ahead as planned, rejecting a request from the Ministry of Science and Technology for them to be be postponed for a month to protect the public’s health. Exams will be held as scheduled from August 19 to August 22,  

According to a post on Instagram by Health Minister Saeed Namaki, the ministry’s formal request to postpone exams was put forth on Monday, August 10 following a meeting of the chairmen of the parliament’s health and science committees, the minister of science, the head of the National Testing Organization and officials from the health ministry and the ministry of science.


Mourning Ceremonies

During the Islamic lunar calendar month of Muharram, which this year starts on August 20, Shias mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam, in 680 AD, traditionally holding large ceremonies and processions. As with university entrance exams, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has consistently adopted a controversial stance on the matter, ruling that the ceremonies can go ahead amid widespread criticism.

On August 11, Ali Maher, the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s deputy for planning, conceded that compliance with health protocols during Muharram ceremonies would not reduce the chances of coronavirus infection to zero and admitted that any kind of gathering is dangerous. He emphasized that, despite its decision, the taskforce maintains its belief that people should not participate in ceremonies and warned that if people flout health protocols, security and police authorities would deal with the offenders.


Health Minister Warns of Decisive Action if People Ignore Guidelines

Reiterating the National Coronavirus Taskforce’s warning, health minister Saeed Namaki told health officials from the region and the World Health Organization that Iran had adopted a tough line with people who violate health guidelines, and that people who failed to comply with government-issued rules would face fines. In an online meeting with the World Health Organization's Eastern Mediterranean Regional Director Ahmed Al-Mandhari and the health ministers from the Eastern Mediterranean countries, he insisted that the government’s policy is to drive home the idea that the situation in Iran had not returned to normal and that people following health guidelines is of utmost importance. 

Namaki also proposed to extend the World Health Organization’s Eastern Mediterranean cooperation program against Covid-19 to more countries in West Asia.

Health experts believe the government’s failure to quarantine infected areas and its reluctance to impose serious restrictions prompted the persistent coronavirus peak in Iran. First Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi defended the government, explaining that economic problems had tied its hands when it came to imposing strict restrictions.

He claimed the new surge in the epidemic occurred in early June when compliance with health protocols fell to around 20 percent. However, he said, currently the compliance rate had risen again to between 70 and 80 percent. According to Harirchi, the number of hospitalizations had fallen to around 2,000 per day. And yet the coronavirus is spreading three to nine times faster than it had been. 

Political prisoners in Iran — including prominent labor leaders Esmail Abdi and Jafar Azimzadeh, the human rights attorney Amir Salar Davoudi, and the journalist Majid Azarpey — are contracting the Covid-19 virus at alarming rates, reported the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“By keeping political prisoners in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons where they are denied medical care and are not separated from ill prisoners, the Iranian authorities are condemning these individuals to Covid-19 and possible death,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI executive director.


Provinces Round-up

A deputy health minister warned that coronavirus is spreading nine times faster than it had been previously and, according to official statistics, the Covid-19 death toll continues to rise in the provinces of Fars, Kerman, Markazi and Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari.

After nine weeks in a red state of alert, Khuzestan province has been on a lower level of alert for a short period, but officials worry that the situation could become critical again. Mohammad Alavi, vice president of Ahvaz University of Medical Sciences, warned that, considering that all neighboring provinces are in red or orange states of alert, if people participate in gatherings, refuse to wear masks and fail to observe social distancing, the pandemic will return with greater force, as has happened in Tehran and provinces in northern Iran. 

Tehran is still in a red state of alert, and Dr. Alireza Zali, director of the Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, described the situation in the nation’s capital as fragile and said it was vital to wait for two or three weeks to ensure the decline in infections and hospitalizations signal meaningful change. He also reported that restrictions, including a ban on gatherings of more 10 people and the lockdown of sports facilities, had been extended until August 14.

According to Dr. Zali, as of August 11, 559 new coronavirus patients had been hospitalized in Tehran, 109 of them in ICU wards.

He opposed plans for schoolchildren to return to the classroom, saying it was too risky, and stated that government employees must work remotely as much as possible. Under the current conditions, he said, it was not possible to observe social distancing rules on metros or on buses.

The number of infections and fatalities in Fars province is again on the rise, according to Ruhollah Hosseini, director of public relations for Fars University of Medical Sciences. He reported that, as of August 10, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Fars had reached 36,486, of whom 633 had died. In the last 48 hours two Covid-19 patients had died every two hours, he said. 

The province of Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari is in a critical situation and, compared to many other provinces, has suffered a more virulent surge of the pandemic, according to Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, the health ministry’s spokeswoman. According to Dr. Lari, in the last two months the number of cases and hospitalizations in the province had doubled and the upward trend of the pandemic in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari was alarming.

Mehdi Shafiei, spokesman for Kerman University of Medical Sciences, said on August 10 that in the last 24 hours, 78 new coronavirus patients had been hospitalized in Kerman, bringing the total Covid-19 hospitalizations in the province to 331. Eleven more patients have died, he reported. 

In Markazi province 129 more people had been diagnosed with coronavirus and the number of fatalities has risen, reported Mohammad Jamalian, president of Arak University of Medical Sciences. He said Arak had the third highest number of senior citizens in the country and is a travel hub that attracts many visitors. Consequently, he said, the death toll in the province had increased.

Hormozgan province is still experiencing a peak in coronavirus even though the infections have slightly declined, warned Fatemeh Noroozian, director of public relations for Hormozgan University of Medical Sciences. On August 10, she reported that in the last 24 hours another nine Covid-19 patients had died, bringing the total death toll in the province to 614.

Birthday parties and wedding and mourning ceremonies in Mazandaran have led to the spread of the pandemic in the province, said Abbas Mousavi, president of Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences. He reported that 12 health workers in Mazandaran had died from Covid-19 and said the lives of medical staff can only be protected if people observe health guidelines.

Daily Briefing

In her daily briefing, the health ministry spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari said the 15 provinces of Mazandaran, Tehran, Qom, Golestan, North Khorasan, Ardabil, Isfahan, Alborz, Razavi Khorasan, Kerman, Semnan, East Azerbaijan, Markazi, Yazd and Gilan are in a red state of alert and the 11 provinces of Fars, Ilam, Lorestan, Hormozgan, Zanjan, Qazvin, West Azerbaijan, Bushehr, Hamedan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad are in an orange state.

In daily briefings on August 10 and August 11, she also reported the official coronavirus statistics for the last 48 hours:

- New coronavirus cases: 4,477

- New hospitalizations: 2,236

- Total cases since the outbreak: 331,189

- Total coronavirus tests conducted in Iran: 2,736,514

- Total recovered from coronavirus: 288,620

- New fatalities: 373

- Total death toll since the outbreak: 18,800


This is part of IranWire's coronavirus chronology. Read the full chronology



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