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Since the COVID-19 outbreak began in Iran in February 2020, internal political strife has prevented authorities from responding adequately to the pandemic. As a result, Iran has become one of the most affected countries: as of April 10, more than 66,000 Iranians have been infected and more than 4,000 have died, in a population of more than 80 million.
Government caught in its own contradictions
On April 1, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared at a gabiente meeting that the country was on the right track in the battle against COVID-19. After thanking Iranian health workers, he said the “cases were on a downward trajectory in most provinces” of Iran.
But Iranian Health Minister Sayed Namaki sent a different message at a parliamentary hearing on April 7, when he claimed that Iran was still managing the pandemic and had not yet contained the COVID-19 spread. He also warned that the statistical curve could not be a source of “pride and carelessness”.
The health minister's concerns were echoed in a parliamentary debate the same day about whether or not a quarantine was imposed at the national level, and some members advocated that it be imposed. Abdul Karim Hosseinzadeh, MP from Tehran, Held that the measure was not necessary to protect the lives of ordinary health workers and citizens.
As this netizen points out, the Iranian government is sending confusing messages:
“رشد مبتلایان به ویروس # کرونا در تمام ایران نزولی شده. ”
تصویر زیر نمودار مبتلایان روزانه ویروس کرونا در ایران بر طبق آمار وزارت بهداشت است که با سرعتی کهرات
به نظرم یک نفر برود برای حسن روحانی ، فرق نزولی و صعودی را تشریح کند. pic.twitter.com/Cy3WY2Esqr
– على حسين قاضى زاده (@Alighazizade) April 1, 2020
Hussain Rouhani: “Contagion cases are on a downward trajectory in Iran.” According to the Ministry of Health, these statistics show that the number of infected people is on the rise. I think someone should explain the difference between downward and upward trends.
However, on April 11, President Rouhani asked Iranians to return low-risk jobs to their workplaces, adding that the country had passed the worst moment of the epidemic.
The weight of religion in Iranian politics
Since religious leaders took power in the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran's political life, including making important decisions at the highest levels, has been in the hands of important members of the clergy. The role of the head of state is assigned to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, a position currently held by Ali Khamenei.
The virus has been spreading rapidly within Iran, and has affected the country's leadership. Iran's parliamentarians, including aide to President Rouhani, Ministry of Health officials and religious academics, have tested positive, with some fatalities. Many officials were tested despite having no symptoms, while the tests were only available to ordinary Iranians who showed symptoms.
“This test is free for symptomatic patients,” said a doctor with the condition of anonymity. “I think it is unethical for officials to be tested without symptoms. With our limited tests, patients need more tests. “
With the spread of the virus, Khamenei ordered the Guardians of the Revolution, a military branch tasked with protecting Iran's political system, to take over fighting COVID-19. The same disagreement arose: while Major General Mohammad Bagheri, commander-in-chief of the Joint Armed Forces, wanted to announce a quarantine, the government refused.
“With so much pressure on Iran, the government does not want to put additional pressure on society,” journalist Behzad Pour Saleh wrote in an article for the BBC in Persian. “Furthermore, quarantined cities and travel restrictions require a well-planned chain of command, something that the Iranian authorities do not have.”
This netizen broadcasts a video in which people in decontamination suits complain about the situation in hospitals:
وضعيت بد بيمارستان بانه !! بيمارستان فاقد لباس ، دستكش و حتي كيسه جنازه است😐😐ف نيه كمكهاي فرانسه مستقيم فرستادند فرودگاه لبنان! يعني عربها لبنان از كُردها ُ مخنه م ژ م م م م م م م م م م # كرونا pic.twitter.com/RzrBlnV9Yi
– كيـــــــــــــٰا🥊 K ___ i ___ a🎻 (@add_kia) March 25, 2020
“That's how bad the situation is at the Bana Hospital! 😐 The hospital does not have protective equipment, gloves, or body bags. What shame and hatred of the clergy, where did the international aid go? French aid was sent directly to Lebanon! It means that the Lebanese are more important than the Iranian Kurds. The regime wants to eliminate the Kurds, it is a clear fact.
Iran's announcement of its first case came late late on February 20 in the city of Qom, a holy place for most Shiite Muslim believers. Since the incubation period is at least two weeks, the people who died in February had been infected in late January. As this journalist points out:
#Iran’S Min. Of Health to MPs: On Feb 19th I told the cabinet we’ve patients with signs of # COVID19 in the city of Qom. I was told to not publicize it till after the parliamentary elex. (Held 2 days later. Plenty of evidence they knew weeks before Feb 19) pic.twitter.com/tTv46c9Qqv
– Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) April 7, 2020
Ministry of Health of They're going to MPs: On February 19, I told the cabinet that we had patients with signs of COVID-19 in the city of Qom. They told me not to publicize it until after the parliamentary elections (which were held two days later. Much evidence that they knew weeks before February 19).
Despite the signs, President Rouhani initially refused to acknowledge the pandemic. In a televised national speech on February 25, he said “it was an enemy conspiracy to confine the country out of fear of COVID-19,” adding that “suspicious cases should be admired in hospitals, but all others should keep going to work. ”
In the end, the city of Qom became the epicenter of the pandemic in the country. The government announced the closure of temples on March 13, almost a month after the spread of the virus, a decision that recalcitrants described as “blind obedience to the anti-religious instructions of the World Health Organization.”
With no travel restrictions imposed, many Iranians also continued to travel, and visitors from neighboring countries returned home with the virus. In many countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Canada, Lebanon, and the Gulf countries, the virus dated back to Iran.
Lack of coordination is obvious. As Kianush Jahanpur, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, observed in a tweet on March 23, large crowds gathered to express their grief over the death of a commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, against all public health protocols:
– Kianush Jahanpur (@drjahanpur) March 23, 2020
There may be new health measures in place to impose restrictions on meetings. This photo says it all. All we can do is cry. No comment.
Foreign policy gets in the way of international aid
There have also been clashes of opinions between the armed forces and the Government regarding foreign aid. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif asked for help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the first time in six decades. The call faced a veto from the United States under its “maximum pressure.”
The United States offered aid directly to Iran, but Tehran refused to accept it. “They are accused of having created the coronavirus”, wrote Khamenei in a tweet. “I don't know if it's true. But when there is such an accusation, can a prudent person trust you? It could be delivering medicines that spread the virus or cause it to stay. ”
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei outlined the official policy regarding foreign aid on Twitter:
ضمن احترام به همه کشورها و سازمانهای بینالمللیای که تاکنون پیشنهاداتی درخصوص کمک به ایران در مبا # کرونا_ویروس مطرح کردند ، سیاست ما در خصوص کمکهای انساندوستانه کشورهای خارجی و نهادها ارنک ه هر نهادی به هردق
– Alirabiei (@Alirabiei_ir) March 25, 2020
With respect to all countries and international organizations that have offered assistance to Iran to combat COVID-19, our policy towards humanitarian aid from foreign countries and organizations is that it will be received as much as the institution wants to help.
Iran's Ambassador to France Ibrahim Qasemi said the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) chartered a plane to send personnel to help Iran fight the pandemic and they were implementing a temporary hospital in Isfahan.
However, at the last minute, MSF was denied entry. Basirat, a news site owned by the Iranian armed forces, published an article saying that MSF was examining symptoms of COVID-19 in Iranian patients and designing a new virus or drug that would only affect the DNA of the Iranians.
Instead, hardline Islamists in Iran said they were ready to help the Europeans. A group of young members of the military prepared packages to help “poor Americans.” However, the spokesman for the Ministry of Saud, Kianoush Jahanpour, said that the country was not in a position to help other countries.
– نرگس خاتون (@jastnarghes) April 1, 2020
There is no need to help poor Americans. Give gloves and masks to these dear people who are at risk of contagion.
While the various powers within Iran clash over politics, ordinary people have continued to get sick and die from COVID-19.