A member of Iran’s parliament announced on Monday that 50 people had died from the new coronavirus in the city of Qom and accused Iran’s Health Ministry of covering up the true extent of the outbreak in the country. The Health Ministry claims just 12 people have died in Iran from COVID-19, with 66 people sick from the disease. The official numbers in Iran were up from a total of 8 deaths and 43 illnesses reported on Sunday.
Ahmad Amirabadi Farhani, who represents Qom, a city roughly 120 kilometres south of Tehran, told Iran’s semiofficial news outlet ILNA that he believes the death count in his city was far higher than what the Iranian government was saying.
“Up until last night, around 50 people died from coronavirus. The health minister is to blame,” Amirabadi Farhani said on Monday, according to an English translation by Middle East news network Al Arabiya, adding that he believes 10 people are dying per day.
Amirabadi Farhani also claims health care workers in the country aren’t equipped with the proper equipment to fight the outbreak.
“None of the nurses have suitable clothing,” Abadi Farahani said according to an English translation by media outlet Rudaw. “No adequate equipment is available and preventative packages have not reached the people and in some pharmacies there are no masks.”
The ILNA news outlet operates as a semi-official arm of the Iranian regime, but defended its publication of the politician’s claims, saying it was important that Iranians had accurate information about the coronavirus.
“The rest of the media have not published this figure,” ILNA editor Fatemeh Madiani told the AFP, referring to the alleged 50 deaths in Qom. “But we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people’s lives are in danger.”
But the Iranian regime denies a cover-up.
“I categorically deny this information,” Iraj Harirchi, a government official, said at a news conference on Monday that was reportedly aired live on state TV.
“This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem,” Harirchi said, adding, “we trust our figures and we do not have any shortcomings.”
Haririchi also said that the government has no interest in issuing a quarantine of Qom, insisting it was an outdated idea, according to Rudaw.
Four new countries announced their first cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, including Iraq, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Kuwait—all with links to Iran. Canada also has a case of COVID-19 that health authorities believe can be tied to the Iran cluster and has no link to China, the first country to report cases of the virus in January. Worldwide, there are now over 79,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the vast majority of those cases still in mainland China. At least 2,626 people have died.
Italy also reported its fourth and fifth deaths from the coronavirus on Monday, as the country scrambles to shut down schools and museums, and cancels sports events in an effort to contain spread of the illness. Italy reported just three cases of COVID-19 late last week, a number that soared to 150 on Sunday. Many Italian cities like Milan are reportedly like ghost towns as people try to stay indoors.
South Korea also reported a troubling rise in cases on Monday, with 231 in the past 24 hours alone, bring the total number of cases in that country to 833, the largest cluster outside of China. The city of Daegu, South Korea has been the hardest hit, with the disease popping up at a church that holds services for thousands of people. An outbreak at the psychiatric ward of a hospital in nearby Cheongdo county has seen at least 111 people infected, including four nurses. The hospital has also experienced two deaths from the disease, a 63-year-old man and a woman in her mid-50s.
Much like the world is witnessing in China, there are concerns that repressive regimes might make the potential pandemic worse. But officials in countries like Iran and China insist they want to be open and honest about their efforts to fight the disease.
“We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country,” Health Ministry spokesperson Ali Rabiei said. “We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures.”