The Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit is demanding that all measures to deal with Iran’s coronavirus crisis be coordinated with it — from medical treatment to media coverage and managing official figures of the people affected, IranWire has learned.
"There are no exact statistics on deaths and infections of COVID-19 in Iran," one source told IranWire.
"From the beginning, the intelligence department of the Islamic Republic Guards Corps (IRGC) ordered all medical staff to coordinate the dissemination of information with it," the source said, referring to the IRGC’s involvement in the admission, discharge, and burial of people who had contracted coronavirus, or COVID-19. "But in the last few days, they want us to coordinate all the details of these patients with them." According to the source, the IRGC intelligence department recently called on Guards’-run medical centers to comply with this directive.
“Practically, this is not possible,” the source said, adding that “medical staff at the IRGC medical centers are unhappy with this decision." However, the source emphasized that no accurate statistics on the number of infections and casualties of the virus are available, for a variety of reasons, including a lack of necessary diagnostic facilities and a failure to identify errors in distinguishing the virus from influenza in the first days of infection.
According to the source, the IRGC has also been overseeing statistics about COVID-19, concerning both the number of cases and the number of deaths, over the last few days.
Prior to this, another source had reported that doctors had been threatened by the IRGC. On Thursday, 27 February, IranWire was told: "On Saturday, February 22, a group of Tehran physicians had a meeting with Iraj Harirchi, Deputy Minister of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education, during which they submitted their reports about the spread of the coronavirus in Tehran and various other cities in Iran. But after the meeting ended, the IRGC took action at the Ministry of Health and threatened all doctors present at the meeting that if they publish the contents of the reports, they will be held responsible for anything that happened."
In addition, a journalist had also reported that the IRGC's intelligence department had clashed with some newspapers about coverage of coronavirus. "On the first day that news of the coronavirus outbreak in Qom emerged, we wrote about it,” the journalist told Journalism is Not a Crime, IranWire’s sister website. “Although the news was true and accurate, officials contacted the head of the news agency, saying that by releasing this news, we were endangering the security of the country. But as the numbers of COVID-19 patients in the country increased, the atmosphere changed slightly. They realized that COVID-19 could no longer be completely denied. They held a meeting and said that it was okay for the coronavirus news to be released, but a red line should be observed, and that was that we must not write in such a way as to create fear."
According to a nurse who works at a hospital affiliated with the IRGC, the infectious disease doctors at IRGC hospitals were asked to prepare training guidelines for COVID-19 prevention in the first days as news emerged about the outbreak and was shared on social media, while the Ministry of Health was denying the details of the outbreak being reported. The guidelines were printed in brochures sent to all bodies and organizations under IRGC supervision. "That is why the IRGC seems to take care of health and coronavirus disease prevention issues more than other bodies," the source said.
The IRGC runs many hospitals and training centers throughout the country, the most well-known among them being Baqiyatollah Hospital, the Baqiyatollah Medical School, Najmiyeh Hospital, and Jamaran Heart Hospital.
The Guards’ control over all aspects of Iranian society is well documented. As coronavirus cases continue to mount, the realization that the IRGC is overseeing the crisis may well lead to heightened fears among the public, certainly given the Guards’ tendency to shield it from the information it needs to protect itself.