On Monday, Iranian official Ahmad Amirabadi said that there have been up to fifty deaths in Iran from coronavirus. The regime did what it knows how to do best: It sought to silence him and condemn him for spreading the news, claiming that only 12 had died from the virus and that there were only 61 cases in the country.

However, for five days Iran has known that there were likely more cases concentrated in the holy city of Qom, where religious pilgrims gather.

Iranians have been largely left in the dark since last Wednesday when two deaths were announced in the Islamic Republic from coronavirus. The regime wanted elections to go well on February 21, so it sought to prevent any news of the virus for days.

By Saturday, it was too late – and the country moved to shut down schools and universities. But Iranians and other pilgrims who had come to Qom and become sick with the virus were already on the move.

They flew back to Iraq’s Najaf, and via Dubai to Bahrain, as well as arriving in Kuwait and Oman. Iran did not inform its neighbors until it was too late. Last Friday, Turkish government officials were already warning that the number of cases in Iran might be up to 750.

Iran’s deputy health minister Iraj Hairichi and member of parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi now say they are sick with the virus and officials admit that many more are sick. New cases in Oman and Bahrain were announced Tuesday – all linked to Iran.

Iran has now set the Middle East ablaze with fears of coronavirus. The virus was mostly limited to China up until two weeks ago. Then it moved rapidly to Italy and South Korea, where there are thought to be several hundred and a thousand cases respectively. But the regime in Tehran purposely hid the numbers of sick.

It may have done so partially out of incompetence, with a health ministry that didn’t know how to find, quarantine or test the sick. In fact, Iran has not done what China or Italy or other places have done. It has not been transparent – and didn’t even quarantine the cases in Qom or wherever they occur. Instead, Iran has acted like an incubator.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke over the weekend with an Austrian delegation on February 23. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif smiled and laughed with the Austrians. The virus was a big joke for the president and minister. Zarif later joked that he didn’t have the virus. Rouhani claimed the virus was like US sanctions: It seemed worse than it was.

Not far from where the men were laughing, Mojtaba Rahmanzadeh, mayor of district 13 in Tehran, was sick and hospitalized for coronavirus. He had been diagnosed on Saturday. But the Iranian regime was not pressed by the Austrians to discuss the issue.

AFTER IRAN closed schools and a university on Sunday and Monday, people began to demand answers and also proper masks. By Tuesday three more had died, bringing the toll to 15, the second highest outside China. Iran’s police meanwhile were hunting for medical masks.

Fears of price gouging were rampant; the police claimed on Tuesday that they had found millions of masks hidden in warehouses. The virus appears to be a national emergency because Ali Shamkhani of the Supreme National Security Council has attacked Amirabadi for spreading news of the fifty deaths.

Iran’s neighbors are fed up with the regime’s lack of transparency. They have now all closed their borders or instituted drastic checks. People who traveled to Iran and arrived in Najaf in Iraq, Bahrain and Oman are now sick. There are now eight cases in Kuwait and six in Bahrain.

The UAE has stopped dozens of flights this week to Iranian cities. Oman has stopped imports from Iran. Kuwait has closed borders and ports. Afghanistan has shut its border but is concerned over the thousands who cross illegally. Bahrain is even stopping flights from the UAE.

Iran’s export of the virus has caused massive concern in Iraq. In Najaf there are now twenty people under observation for the virus. And Iraq is not well prepared. Medical masks are out of date, ministry phone numbers don’t work and the country is struggling to stop travel to Najaf and suspend travel to Iran.

Iran and Iraq are closely linked in religious issues, weapons trafficking, and also trade. Cutting off these contacts is a major move. It comes at a bad time for Baghdad, after months of protests and with a new prime minister who lacks a government. In the Kurdistan region there are long lines at gas stations as people fear borders closing.

IRAN’S GOVERNMENT is in denial. Rouhani has claimed that the virus is no worse than the flu in the US that kills thousands of people a year. He claims the country, with God’s help, will overcome the virus. “The coronavirus is an uninvited traveler and goes to any country, but we have to overcome this problem,” he said on Tuesday.

The truth is that Rouhani’s government has made the situation worse by covering up the extent of the virus and also by not providing transparent answers to the international community or Iran’s neighbors. The regime has gotten used to this over the last few months, after downing a Ukrainian airliner and killing 1,500 protesters. The deaths from the virus do not matter to the regime, as Rouhani indicates: If thousands die or even tens of thousands, it will be like any other flu virus, and the country will move on.

For average Iranians, becoming collateral damage to the country trying to preserve its reputation may not be what they bargained for. For Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon and other countries now under threat because of people who traveled to Iran, the government’s indecision – and its not treating the issue as an emergency – could also be bad news.

It is already causing panic in the Gulf and Iraq. Health ministries from Erbil in the Kurdistan region to Abu Dhabi are trying to reassure people not to panic or spread rumors. Tehran’s unwillingness to take part in a regional response to the crisis is not helping tamp down the rumors.

Iran’s regime has siege mentality that is used to blaming foreigners for its problems. It blames foreign media for reporting on the virus. Even Iran’s authoritarian contacts in other countries will have warned it to take no chances with this virus. China knows what the results can be, as do Gulf states.

But Iran didn’t listen. It kept its Mahan Air and other carriers flying. Pilgrims kept coming because the theocracy, that is the regime, judged faith to be more important than science. Pharmacies are now out of masks in Iran. People are confused and worried – and so is the entire Middle East.

Source » jpost