According to official statistics in Iran, the total number of COVID-19 patients, as of 2pm on 17 March, has passed 16,000 people. The death toll has risen to nearly a thousand, and it is said that some 5,000 have recovered after catching the deadly virus.
There are many doubts about the accuracy or validity of these statistics. Evidence suggests that the actual number of people infected with coronavirus is several times higher than the official figures. But are there any facilities for this volume of patients in Iran? If facilities are meant to be Intensive Care Unit (ICU) facilities then the answer is no.
Even according to official statistics, the total number of patients in the country is now twice as high as the total number of intensive care beds. Even if we reduce the number of people recovered, according to official statistics, we lack something around two thousand beds for the number of patients.
Before getting into the details of the figures, let us see if everyone suffering from COVID-19 needs intensive treatment. They do not – but the point is that, given the circumstances, most people counted in official statistics do need special care.
On 18 March the World Health Organization’s emergency director in the Middle East, who has recently returned from Iran, said: "The number of cases of COVID-19 in Iran may be five times the official figures, because the coronavirus tests are only for people with severe symptoms."
Therefore, it can be said that due to a lack of facilities, only those who have severe symptoms will receive coronavirus testing.
Earlier, in statements by officials at the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, there were signs that, except for specific cases, such as politicians and celebrities, the coronavirus test was performed only for hospitalized patients, and not even for all of them. An example is the statement on 3 March by Alireza Raeesi, Deputy Health Minister, when he said: "From the beginning, more than 8,532 people affected by the virus were hospitalized and 5,737 of them have been tested; 2,336 of these were confirmed to have been infected by coronavirus."
This means that not only are suspected outpatients with general symptoms of the virus, such as a fever and a cough, not tested, but also a third of those hospitalized because of their condition have also not been tested.
We can be sure that most of those listed on the coronavirus official statistics are those in need of hospitalization and intensive care.
But are there enough intensive care beds in Iran to accommodate all COVID-19 patients in serious conditions?
The "Iran Open Data" website, in a report of 4 March 2020, reviewed and compared figures for those infected with the virus with hospital statistics. The report said that according to official statistics from the Ministry of Health, the number of intensive care beds in the country is 8,212 (2018). Now the number of people infected until 17 March has reached 16,169 which is twice the capacity of ICU beds.
Until 17 March, according to official statistics, in Tehran province 4,047 people had been infected with coronavirus. The total number of intensive care beds in Tehran province was 2,402 until two years ago.
In Qom the number of infected people is 1,052 and there are only 57 ICU beds. This means that the number of patients who require intensive care is five times more than the ICU bed capacity for the entire province.
The following table shows the situation in different provinces. As can be seen, in most provinces, official statistics of those infected with the virus exceeds the number of intensive care beds, and the disease has effectively outpaced hospital facilities across Iran.
Matters will be sure to get worse in the coming days. As a rule, the number of ICU beds is constant, or its growth rate is limited and low. But the pace of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran remains high. It is unclear how it will evolve – or how the crisis managements structures of the Islamic Republic will get out of such a critical situation.