Iranian Regime’s Reckless Disregard Made the Coronavirus Outbreak Worse

Iran,
which faces one of the most widespread COVID-19 coronavirus outbreaks outside
of China, is paying a heavy price for the mismanagement, dishonesty, and
self-serving priorities of its Islamist clerical regime.

Iran’s
totalitarian rulers remain in denial about the scope and consequences of the
pandemic, preferring to save face rather than save lives.

The
ayatollahs played down the danger of the outbreak and delayed taking decisive
measures to slow the spread of the virus to project total control and
invincibility, and to avoid damaging the regime’s political, ideological, and
economic interests.

The
excavation of trenches for mass
graves
at the Behesht-e-Masoumeh complex in Qom, the epicenter of Iran’s
virus outbreak, and images
of coronavirus victims in black bags crowding the floors of an Iranian morgue
are grim signs that the scale and impact of the coronavirus is far deadlier
than the Iranian regime is reporting.

Iranian officials initially downplayed the severity of the outbreak, losing critical time to contain the spread of the virus.

The government announced the first two coronavirus-related deaths on Feb. 19, two days before parliamentary elections that hard-liners hoped would restore the tattered legitimacy of the oppressive, corrupt, and increasingly resented regime.

Iran’s
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused
the country’s enemies of exaggerating the threat posed by the coronavirus shortly
before the elections to discourage the turnout of voters, which he knew would
be low due to the lack of popular support for the regime.

In
November, anti-government
protests
in Iran demonstrated
the Iranian people’s dissatisfaction with the regime. Disaffection turned into
outright anger against the regime after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot
down a Ukrainian airliner in January, killing many Iranian passengers and
refusing to take responsibility for three days.

In
a statement to the country on Feb. 25, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani refused
to admit that the outbreak was quickly spiraling out of control, claiming
that this was “one of the enemy’s plots to bring our country into closure by
spreading panic.”

Now, almost a month later, as of March 20, nearly 20,000 Iranians have been infected and more than 1,430 are dead, including many senior officials and clerics.

Health
experts suspect the number of infections is much greater, with estimates as
high as 2
million
. The question is: How and why did Iran become the third-largest
center of the virus behind China and Italy, and to what degree is the Iranian
regime responsible?

The holy city of Qom, where the virus was first reported in Iran, is home to important Shiite religious sites that attract pilgrims from around the world. Initial reporting indicates that the virus might have originated with a businessman traveling between Qom and Wuhan or with a Chinese worker.

China
is Iran’s foremost trading partner. Iranian businessmen frequently travel to
China, and Chinese workers are building infrastructure projects in Qom.

There
are also more than 700 Chinese
students
at Qom Seminary and at al-Mustafa International University, giving
Qom the largest Chinese population in Iran.

One
Iranian Sunni scholar has
charged
that the COVID-19 virus in Iran originated with these students, an
allegation that the theocratic regime is unwilling to admit to for political
reasons. 

In
any event, as COVID-19 cases began to multiply in Qom, the Iranian regime
failed to enact serious measures to contain the outbreak. Religious shrines in
Qom remained open, as authorities initially balked at closing the shrines to
the public, which would have reduced the income earned from millions of
pilgrims each year. 

Even
after Iran’s Health Ministry recommended that the shrines be closed, religious
leaders dragged their feet.

Some
clerics and their followers claim that the shrines had divine powers that cure
diseases, leading several pilgrims to videotape
themselves
licking objects in one shrine, ostensibly to prove that their
religious fervor protected them from the virus.

Iran
also was slow to halt air travel from China, which would hurt plans to boost
Chinese tourism. Although the government announced all air travel between China
and Iran was ended on Feb. 14, flights continued on Mahan
Air
, an airline partly owned by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

By Feb. 24, the virus had spread to most of the 31 provinces in Iran. In addition to the local population, elite members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and religious clerics have tested positive for the disease at an alarming rate.

At
least 25 Iranian officials and clerics have been infected, 12 of them dying
from the illness.
That number continues to climb daily, with no foreseeable end.

Rouhani
publicly refused to institute nationwide quarantines, calling them “anarchic,”
and boasted of Iran’s public health system. Regime officials bragged that Iran
exported face masks to China and a COVID-19 outbreak would not be a problem in
Iran.

But Iranian doctors and nurses in overwhelmed hospitals say that they have been warned by security officials to keep quiet about the scale of the virus outbreak and have been forced to attribute deaths to other causes in official paperwork. 

Security
forces stationed at hospitals have threatened to arrest medical personnel who
disclose the number of patients, fatalities, or shortages of equipment. 

The
Islamist regime in Tehran is clearly more interested in controlling information
and people than in controlling COVID-19.

While
public places such as schools, places of worship, and cultural centers
belatedly have closed down, crowds continue to fill the markets of Tehran in
preparation for the upcoming celebration of the Persian New Year, while Shiite
worshippers pack themselves into mosques and shrines in Qom.

Iranians
have been put at risk by the callous policies of a clerical dictatorship that
values retaining power, protecting its image, and safeguarding its own
economic, political, and ideological interests over public health.   

The
virus is not going away, and it seems that more trenches will need to be dug
for mass graves to accommodate the many more deaths and infections that are in
Iran’s future.

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Source material can be found at this site.

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