Is Iran masking up its outbreak?

Illustrated image of medics fighting coronavirus

Iran is going through one of many largest coronavirus outbreaks on this planet. Today, as households have a good time Persian New Year, Nowruz, there may be concern the true scale of the virus is being downplayed by the federal government and will quickly get a lot worse.

Mohammad has been working relentlessly for the reason that coronavirus outbreak to save lots of the lives of his sufferers. The hospital physician, who works within the northern province of Gilan, has not seen his household for 14 days. He has misplaced colleagues. He has misplaced mates – together with his former mentor, his instructor at medical college who not too long ago fell sufferer to coronavirus.

“It’s not just our hospital. The coronavirus outbreak has paralysed our whole health system,” says Mohammad.

“The morale of staff is very low. Our families are so worried and we are under enormous pressure.”

Mohammad’s title has been modified as a result of talking out in opposition to the federal government in Iran dangers arrest. But a number of docs from throughout the nation’s northern provinces have spoken to the BBC concerning the dire circumstances they’re going through, and the way badly they suppose the federal government has dealt with the disaster.

“We don’t even have enough masks. Our medical staff are dying on a daily basis,” says Mohammad.

“I do not know how many people died but the government is trying to cover up the true scale of the crisis. They lied in the early days of the outbreak.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A medical skilled helps a affected person to hospital in Iran

In simply 16 days, Covid-19 unfold all through all 31 provinces in Iran.

On prime of this, 16 international locations declare they’ve instances of the virus that originated in Iran. They are Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Pakistan, Georgia, Estonia, New Zealand, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Qatar and Armenia.

However, critics of the authorities say the federal government of Iran has continued to downplay the outbreak.

In its first announcement on 19 February, the federal government informed individuals to not fear concerning the virus. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Iran’s “enemies” of exaggerating the risk.

Every week later, because the variety of instances and deaths surged, President Hassan Rouhani echoed the Supreme Leader’s phrases and warned in opposition to the “conspiracies and fear-mongering of our enemies”. He stated these had been designed to carry the nation to a standstill and urged Iranians to proceed their on a regular basis lives and stick with it going to work.

Most not too long ago, state-controlled TV programmes introduced the coronavirus may very well be a US-manufactured “bioweapon”, with the Supreme Leader tweeting a few “biological attack”.

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Image caption Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

As of 20 March, almost 1,300 individuals have died and almost 18,000 individuals have been contaminated, in keeping with the Iranian well being ministry.

Iran is the third worst-hit nation behind China and Italy.

Doctors from three of the worst-hit provinces in Iran – Gilan, Golestan and Mazandarn – have informed the BBC that there are only a few coronavirus testing kits, and medical provides are restricted – together with primary medicines, oxygen tanks, sterilised masks, and protecting scrubs and gloves.

Doctors are actually having to package out non permanent area hospitals. One intensive care physician described how her native soccer stadium was being geared up with beds to deal with the overflow of sufferers.

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Image caption Some factories within the capital Tehran are actually producing medical gear 24 hours a day

Every physician the BBC spoke to stated that based mostly on their expertise, the official statistics have to be a lot decrease than the truth.

One physician, an A&E medic from Golestan Province, says her hospital receives a median of 300 sufferers a day. She estimates that 60%-70% of these are contaminated with coronavirus, however attributable to lack of assets, solely those that are critically unwell are admitted.

And solely those that are admitted to hospital are counted within the official statistics.

The physician describes having misplaced 5 sufferers a day on common over the previous two weeks. She says that usually by the point somebody has arrived with a coronavirus testing package, her affected person has already died.

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Image caption Medical employees herald one other affected person suspected of Coronavirus

Also devastating for medical employees is the lack of their very own. Medical professionals stated that they had not too long ago misplaced a lot of colleagues.

One heartbreaking case was that of 25-year-old Narjes Khanalizadeh, a nurse from the northern metropolis of Lahijan who died in the direction of the tip of February.

A photograph of her went viral on social media. But the federal government denied she had died of Covid-19.

Image caption Narjes Khanalizadeh collapsed on 23 February and died two days later

State-controlled TV channels continued to painting a picture of easy-going and fearless medical employees engaged on the entrance line, courageously battling the virus and saving their sufferers.

But shortly after her dying, the Iranian Nursing Organisation confirmed Narjes had died of coronavirus.

How did the virus unfold so quick?

According to the federal government, there have been two “patient zeros”, each of whom died within the metropolis of Qom on 19 February. One, it stated, was a businessman who contracted the illness in China.

Qom rapidly grew to become the epicentre of the outbreak.

The metropolis is a vital pilgrimage vacation spot for Shia Muslims. It is dwelling to the nation’s prime Islamic clerics, and attracts some 20 million home and round 2.5 million worldwide vacationers a yr. Each week, 1000’s of pilgrims navigate the town, paying their respects by kissing and touching the quite a few shrines and landmarks.

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Image caption Imam Hasan Al-Askari Mosque in Qom has been closed for the reason that outbreak

The virus unfold rapidly and the variety of instances started to soar. But as a substitute of rapidly quarantining the town, representatives of the Supreme Leader – similar to cleric Mohammad Saeedi – campaigned for pilgrims to maintain on visiting.

“We consider this holy shrine to be a place of healing. That means people should come here to heal from both spiritual and physical diseases.”

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Image caption A lots kisses the closed door of the Fatima Masumeh shrine in reverence

Richard Brennan, director of emergency operations for the World Health Organization (WHO), who not too long ago returned from Qom, stated: “Due to the special religious nature of Qom, with religious tourists coming from inside and outside Iran, the virus spread rapidly across the country.”

He stated throughout his go to he had seen a “genuine effort” to extend operations in testing labs and hospitals in Qom and the capital Tehran.

The metropolis’s shrines have now been closed.

Image copyright MEHDI MARIZAD
Image caption People collect exterior the closed doorways of the Fatima shrine in Iran’s holy metropolis of Qom

Did the federal government downplay the outbreak?

February noticed two main occasions for the nation – the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution and the parliamentary elections.

“The first days that my colleagues and I recorded an abnormal respiratory disease were days before the Islamic Revolution victory day on 11 February,” recollects one senior physician, who says he despatched a number of experiences from his hospital to senior well being ministers in Tehran warning of the outbreak.

“We believe that health officials decided to hide the fact that coronavirus had reached Iran to have their usual state-sponsored gatherings.”

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Image caption Iran marks the Islamic Revolution anniversary in Azadi (Freedom) sq.

Both the anniversary occasion and the elections had been seen as a take a look at of the federal government’s recognition, after six months of chaos endured by Iranians.

These included violent protests in November following a gas worth hike, and rising tensions with the US, after Iran attacked a base in Iraq housing American troops in retaliation for the killing of the highest Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.

The downing of a Ukrainian airplane that led to the dying of all 176 individuals on board dented public belief after officers initially denied the airplane had been hit by a missile.

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Image caption Iran marks the Islamic Revolution anniversary in Azadi (Freedom) sq.

Shortly after the election, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused Iran’s “enemies” of exaggerating the specter of coronavirus to maintain voters away from the polls.

“Negative propaganda was launched several months ago, and in the last two days their media has used every opportunity to discourage people from casting their vote on the pretext of an illness and virus,” stated Mr Khamenei.

More not too long ago, Iran’s well being minister Saeed Namaki, rejected all claims of delaying experiences, with state TV asserting “the issue was immediately announced [19 Feb] despite the fact the election was was due to be held that Friday [21 Feb]”.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Iranians forged their poll at a polling station in Shah Abdol-Azim Shrine,

Five days after the election, the variety of instances confirmed by the federal government had risen to 139 with 19 lifeless.

The identical day, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a hardline MP from Qom, stood up in parliament and stated 50 individuals had died in his metropolis over a two-week interval.

Deputy well being minister Iraj Harirchi denied Mr Farahani’s declare, and stated he would resign if the dying toll stood at even half that quantity.

Later that day, Harirchi was seen sweating profusely and coughing throughout a press convention on coronavirus. He later introduced he had examined constructive, turning into the primary of many high-profile Iranian politicians to turn out to be contaminated.

Harirchi reportedly has since made a “full recovery” showing dwell on tv on 13 March.

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Image caption Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi wipes his sweat throughout a press convention

Numerous specialists and journalists have recommended the official figures are a harmful and huge underestimate of the true scale of the disaster in Iran, together with a BBC Persian investigation which established on a single day, the dying toll to be six instances increased than reported.

But as even the official figures proceed to soar, the query now for Iranians is easy methods to cease the virus.

Living in lockdown

Alireza’s father handed away in mid-March.

“Nobody in our family was there when they buried my father. I didn’t even get to see his body. They just told us he’d died and had been buried in a special zone in Tehran’s main cemetery.”

For security, Alireza’s title has been modified.

Alireza’s household had been informed by the authorities to not collect for a funeral however that they might be capable of go to the grave as soon as her father had been buried.

But upon arriving on the cemetery, she was informed by employees it wasn’t protected to enter as a result of they had been nonetheless burying so many different our bodies.

“We talk more about the burial of my father than his death,” she says. “I’m not a religious, or even spiritual person, but I still have this strange feeling inside, as if we disrespected my father.”

The Iranian authorities have now banned all giant funeral gatherings.

Several clerics, together with the Supreme Leader, have additionally issued spiritual fatwas in opposition to the normal washing of lifeless our bodies, to guard these working as “mordeshoors” – or body-washers.

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Image caption Firefighters disinfect the Tajrish Bazaar, Tehran, Iran

As the WHO requires worldwide “urgent and aggressive action”, Iran’s response continues to fall wanting the measures applied in international locations similar to China or Italy.

Schools, universities and seminaries have been closed, soccer matches cancelled, and a large-scale disinfection marketing campaign has begun within the capital metropolis, Tehran. All Iranians have been suggested in opposition to journey and informed to remain at dwelling. And for the primary time for the reason that institution of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Friday prayers have been cancelled.

In an try to forestall the unfold of the illness in overcrowded jails, 155,000 prisoners had been additionally quickly launched. This consists of political prisoners, lots of whom are believed to be unwell, amongst them British-Iranian charity employee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

However, most authorities buildings, workplaces and banks stay open.

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Image caption A prevention marketing campaign poster within the capital Tehran

Even for middle-class Iranians similar to retired academics Fatemeh and her husband – not their actual names – say the issue is most individuals are nonetheless reliant on money for purchasing every part from groceries to gas.

‘We should go to the financial institution to gather our month-to-month pension. We expect to obtain the Nowruz [Persian new year] particular allowance within the coming days.”

Many medical specialists inside and outdoors Iran say until the federal government establishes clear incident figures and strikes to quarantine complete cities similar to Qom, the virus will proceed to cripple your complete nation.

President Rouhani has repeatedly stated the federal government is not going to place cities underneath lockdown and for “all shops to remain open and everyone to continue doing business”, a choice many consider is just because Iran can not afford to do in any other case. The US sanctions have devastated the financial system.

Persian new yr is the nation’s largest annual pageant. Ayatollah Khamenei used the occasion to reward the nation’s “dazzling” sacrifices in responding to the outbreak.

For Fatemeh, it has by no means appeared much less of a second to have a good time.

“In all my life, I don’t ever remember staying home alone for Nowruz. Even during the war, when Saddam started attacking cities with missiles, we would visit each other during Nowruz.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tehran, Iran

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