An epidemiologist with Iran’s National Coronavirus Taskforce has accused President Rouhani of risking a potential "genocide" with his government's policies to combat the coronavirus epidemic, while at the same time trying to stem potential public unrest.
On July 19, Tehran City Council confirmed that between February 20 and July 18, the city’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery had buried more than 7,167 people who had died from Covid-19. The announcement came as Iranian health ministry continued its policy of presenting invalid, distorted and misleading data about the epidemic in Iran, and the numbers of people who have lost their lives across the country.
As of July 19, the ministry said the total death toll for the entire country was 14,188.
On Saturday, July 18, quoting a health ministry report, Rouhani said that some 25 million Iranians may have already been infected with coronavirus, adding that “30 to 35 million Iranians are likely to be exposed to coronavirus in the coming months.” A day later, Dr. Mohammad Reza Mahboub-Far, an epidemiologist and a member of the National Coronavirus Taskforce, said statements by Rouhani were “a confirmation of Iran's policy of herd immunity.”
“I have been informed,” said Dr. Mahboub-Far, “that in a meeting with a number of key ministers, the president acknowledged that if restrictions continued, the country would be engulfed by an economic and security crisis and, as a result, millions will come out onto the streets to protest. The president emphasized that, because of the budget shortfall, the government does not want this to happen and prefers for the quarantines to end so that, with reopenings, the situation can return to normal and people can return to their businesses…The president emphasized that herd immunity would happen only when another 35 million are infected.”
“To say that 60 million people had to be infected with coronavirus means that a genocide must happen in this country, and this is in no way acceptable,” he said. “We must reconsider the policy of herd immunity because coronavirus is not a known disease and it is not certain that those infected will not get infected again in the future.”
In theory, Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person less likely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.
Dr. Mahboub-Far pointed out that global statistics from show that coronavirus infections result in an average of two percent mortality rate. This means that, with the 25 million cases the president appears to be calling for, Iran’s official statistics about the epidemic are questionable.
The taskforce expert said “more than 70 percent of Iranians want re-imposition of restrictions, lockdowns and quarantines to ensure that they and their families remain safe. They want the government to pay the costs of the coronavirus crisis by any means it can so they will not be forced to leave their homes.”
Don’t Listen to Experts
However, regardless of what its own experts say, the National Coronavirus Taskforce instructed the Islamic Development Organization, the Qom Seminary, the Friday Imams Policy Council and the Ministry of Health to submit their proposals to the taskforce regarding mourning ceremonies due to take place in September and October marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Shia imam, in 680 CE.
The taskforce also allowed indoor and outdoor gatherings and ceremonies to resume in so-called “white,” “yellow” and “orange” cities — cities not on the highest alert level — provided they obtain a permit and are supervised by “control centers.” The taskforce also announced that tour groups are still not allowed to travel to Iran, although individuals can visit the country provided they observe health protocols.
Officially, the first cases of coronavirus broke out in Iran on February 19. But, in a public session of Tehran City Council, Dr. Nahid Khoda-Karami, head of the council’s Health Committee, stated that the first coronavirus death was registered on February 20 and, as a result, it was obvious that the outbreak started in Iran long before that date. She also reiterated that, from February 20 to July 18, more than 7,167 coronavirus victims had been buried in Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery.
Report from the Cemetery
IranWire receives an exclusive copy of the Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery records on a daily basis. The records, which are based on death certificates issued by doctors, corroborate the figures Dr. Khoda-Karami cited: out of 7,167 people who had died from coronavirus, the bodies of at least 1,886 people have been turned over to their families to be buried in other Tehran cemeteries and other parts of Iran.
According to Dr. Khoda-Karami, a scientifically-backed study conducted on data gathered from 275,000 people in Tehran who displayed coronavirus infection symptoms from March 21 to April 3 shows that their average age was 57. This statement reveals that, in just two weeks, at least 275,000 people in Tehran were infected with coronavirus, a number much higher than official statistics.
Crisis in the Capital and a Bleak Situation in the Provinces
With the surge in the number of coronavirus cases, Tehran is now practically a “red” province, even though health ministry officials ministry have refused to include it in the official list of red, or high alert, provinces. According to Dr. Alireza Zali, director of Tehran Coronavirus Taskforce, in the last 24 hours, 650 new Covid-19 patients have been hospitalized in the common wards of Tehran’s hospitals, a situation which Zali called “worrisome.”
But, even in such a situation, government officials, including Tehran officials, have tried to pretend the situation is normal, and have refused to approve measures that would reduce the spread of the disease. For instance, Mohammad Ali Mokhtari, president of Tehran Parks and Green Spaces Organization, said that closing green recreational spaces could reduce the number of large crowds but, as of now, the National Coronavirus Taskforce has issued no such ordinance.
At the same time, Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences issued a statement calling on volunteers, NGOs and charities to come to its aid so that the hospitals it oversees can cope with the increasing number of coronavirus patients.
There have been reports of a high number of coronavirus deaths at Kahrizak Senior Citizens Home but Anooshirvan Mohseni Bandpey, governor of Tehran province, announced that “only” 37 people had died from Covid-19 at the facility.
The situation in Alborz province is “red” and dangerous, and on the night of July 18, 815 people with coronavirus symptoms attended medical centers in the province, said Dr. Hossein Karim, president of Alborz University of Medical Sciences. He reported that as of July 19, 615 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the province and warned that if the number of Covid-19 hospitalizations exceeded 1,000, the province would be “facing a bad situation.”
In Golestan, Hadi Haghshenas, the governor of the province, once again warned about the shortage of hospital beds and said that the province’s medical infrastructure and its hospitals would not be able to cope with the high number of patients expected to need treatment in the fall as a result of a second wave of coronavirus. He said that, as of July 19, 688 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in the province and, according to a number of experts, the number was likely to increase to 2,600 come autumn. Golestan’s medical centers, he warned, do not have the capacity to care for this number of coronavirus patients.
Countries where the coronavirus outbreak started around the same time as it had in Iran are gradually resuming their domestic and international flights, but Turkey announced that it was suspending all flights to and from Iran and Afghanistan. Turkish Airlines had gradually restarted international flights as of June 11. According to Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Civil Aviation Administration, Turkey cited the coronavirus epidemic as the reason for the decision to stop flights again.
Government Figures: Incorrect, Misleading, Incomplete
In her briefing for July 19, the health ministry’s spokeswoman Dr. Sima Sadat Lari, again gave an incorrect number of provinces in the “red” state of emergency. According to Lari Sadat, the provinces of East Azerbaijan, Ilam, Bushehr, Razavi Khorasan, Khuzestan, Zanjan, Golestan, Mazandaran, Kerman and Fars are still “red” zones. She made no mention of “orange” provinces whatsoever.
However, based on the criteria announced by the health ministry itself and according its own reports and those of universities of medical sciences in various provinces, the provinces of Tehran, Alborz, South Khorasan and Sistan and Baluchistan are also “red;” the provinces of Kermanshah, West Azerbaijan, Hormozgan, Kurdistan, Qom, Ardebil, Isfahan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, Lorestan, Hamedan, Yazd and North Khorasan are on an “orange” state of alert.
In the last 24 hours, said Dr. Sadat Lari on July 19, 2,182 new coronavirus cases had been identified, and 1,324 of those had been hospitalized, bringing the total cases in Iran since the outbreak to 273,656. In the same 24 hours, the official coronavirus death toll rose to 14,188, with the death of a further 209 people who had contracted Covid-19.