In Iran, there are increasing reports on outbreaks of coronavirus in several Iranian cities, particularly in Qom. At the February 24, 2020 Majlis plenum, the representative from Qom, Ahmad Amirabadi, revealed that the Iranian authorities were concealing statistics on the outbreak of the virus in the country, the numbers of carriers and dead, and the fact that the regime is unprepared to handle the epidemic.
Additionally, Qom University for the Medical Sciences president Dr. Mohammad Reza Qadir acknowledged, in a live television broadcast, that the Health Ministry had prohibited him from releasing this information. He added that the situation in the city was critical and implored the authorities to take action.
For his part, Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi demanded that information on the virus' impact be submitted only to authorities and only via official, secret letter, and added that he refused to quarantine cities to fight the virus.
On February 20, Amir Moqaddam, former PR director and liaison between the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Majlis, who fled Iran several years ago, explained on his channel on the messaging platform Telegram that the regime has extensive connections with China that it uses for disseminating Shi'ite Islam there, and that this is the reason for the outbreak of coronavirus in the holy city of Qom, where many Chinese clerics study. Accusing the regime and the clerics of hiding information from the public, Moqqadam wrote: "It is no wonder that the coronavirus outbreak began in Qom, and with such virulence. [The organization of] the seminaries in Qom has an extensive network in China. Every year hundreds of clerics are dispatched to China. The Chinese citizens have a special seminary in Qom, and they are always coming and going [from China]. In the seminaries, they study Chinese. The streets of Qom are filled with Chinese [Muslim] clerics. The coronavirus is the gift of the clerics and the Islamic Republic [of Iran] to the [Iranian] people. This is the main reason why they are trying to hide information about the coronavirus situation in Qom" (see his photos below of Chinese in Qom).
Representatives of political camps are pointing fingers at each other for the failure to tackle the crisis. The two main camps in Iran – the reformists and conservative pragmatists, whose candidates for last week's Majlis elections were disqualified by the thousands, and the ideological conservatives – are accusing each other of responsibility for the situation.
The following are the main points of statements about the coronavirus crisis in Qom and Iran:
Majlis Representative From Qom Ahmad Amirabadi: "50 Coronavirus Patients Have Died In Qom"; "The Government's Fight Against Coronavirus Is Zero"
At the February 24 Majlis plenum, Ahmad Amirabadi, Qom's representative in the Majlis, said: "The coronavirus outbreak situation in Qom is not good. In my opinion, the government's control of the spread of the disease has failed. The government's fight against the coronavirus is zero. To date, the nurses in the hospitals have no appropriate [protective] clothing for the conditions of the quarantine and they are treating patients in fear and horror. The nurses have had many problems so far, but have few resources.
"Unfortunately, the government is not as fearful as it should be, and is not treating the issue as a crisis. It is true that we must maintain calm, but we must not reflect the scope of the crisis [to the public] as if nothing were happening. Ten people are dying every day in Qom from coronavirus. In the past two weeks, up to last night, some 50 coronavirus patients have died in Qom, and the blame rests on the health minister. Unfortunately, three weeks have passed since the virus reached Qom, but the authorities have informed [the public of this] only recently. It is true that 250 people are now quarantined, but there are not enough resources in Qom, and sometimes not enough masks in the pharmacies [for the public].
"At a secret Majlis session I asked the health minister to quarantine Qom, and I even argued with him about the lies he is telling the public, because the circumstances are not as the government is telling the public, and the situation in Qom is critical...
"The government did not want to release the news about the coronavirus so as not to frighten the public... All this time, since the outbreak of the virus in Qom, 32 people in quarantine have died... Two children were diagnosed with it, [and] even the president of Qom University of Medical Sciences was infected, and in light of the critical situation a substitute [for him] must be chosen as soon as possible.
"The nurses have no means of protection, despite the health minister's statements that since this morning 7,000 [sets of protective] clothing have been sent to the nurses. I don't know if these statements are true or false.
"The government has so far taken no special action against the coronavirus... In the past 48 hours, four opthalmologists were sent to Qom, but they fled overnight.
"According to statements by the Qom University of Medical Sciences president, the first deaths from coronavirus were on February 13 [note: the health system reported the deaths only a week later]."
Subsequently, the ILNA news agency reported that Amirabadi had taken ill after he spoke and left, and that Majlis staff had disinfected the area for fear that he was infected with the coronavirus.
Majlis members at the plenum, Tehran (Source: Fars, Iran, February 24, 2020)
Iranian Deputy Health Minister: Coronavirus Statistics Should Be Reported To Us "In An Official, Secret Letter"; Amirabadi Is Lying; We Oppose Quarantines
Iranian Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi denied Amirabadi's claims: "I deny [the claim] that 50 have died in Qom. No one has the authority to release such information. I am not responding to the [mendacious] foreign media reporting the number of dead of the disease. If in Iran there is anyone who cares about the situation and has something to say in the matter, he should submit the numbers in an official, secret letter. Amirabadi should have informed us of this officially and secretly. If the number of dead from coronavirus is even half of what Amirabadi reported, I will step down. But we are not backing down on the fact that he is confusing public opinion... This is not the time for political rivalry; the coronavirus is a national issue and we must unite and uproot it..."
To view statements by Harirchi on MEMRI TV, click here or below.
Amirabadi Responds: "I Have Provided The Health Minister With The Names Of The Dead, And Now We Must Wait For The Deputy Minister To Resign, As He Promised"
ILNA then reported on Amirabadi's response to Harirchi's statements; according to the report, he said: "The rumors that I am infected with coronavirus and was taken to the hospital are false. I merely left the press conference to attend a meeting with the Majlis speaker. I heard that the deputy health minister denied my statements about the number of dead in Qom. I have provided the health minister with the names of the dead, and now we must wait for the deputy minister to resign, as he promised."
Qom University Of Medical Sciences Dr. Mohammad Reza Qadir: "According to Health Ministry instructions, I am prohibited from presenting statistics"
On February 22, Dr. Mohammad Reza Qadir, president of the Qom University of Medical sciences, spoke on Iranian state TV about the outbreak of coronavirus in Qom: "I am accustomed to speaking candidly, and so I say that we must look at Qom differently. The situation in Qom is not good... In light of the wave of people coming to the hospitals fearing they have been infected with the coronavirus tonight, and also because of the growth in the number of carriers in the city, the alarm bells are warning of the danger in Qom... Thus, I implore the Health Ministry and the government to look at Qom differently so that we will not witness an outbreak of the coronavirus in Qom... At the moment, the situation is critical... According to Health Ministry instructions, I am prohibited from presenting statistics on this matter..."
Political Finger-Pointing: Who Is Responsible For The Failure To Deal With And Report Coronavirus Cases?
On February 24, Mustafa Tajzadeh, a reformist who was a government minister during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), tweeted questions about the authorities' poor handling of the fight against the coronavirus. Journalist and member of the ideological camp Hossein Dehbashi tweeted back, blaming him and his reformist colleagues for the failure.
Tajzadeh tweeted: "Why is there no ban on travel from China to Iran since the coronavirus emerged? Why, after the coronavirus reached Qom, was the city not quarantined, and why were the religious and public sites and schools not shut down? Why are official statistics of the date the virus appeared and the exact numbers of dead and sick different from what doctors in the area are saying?"
Dehbashi responded: "Dear Mr. Tajzadeh, the chairman of Mahan Air [that flies the Iran-China route], Mr. Hossein Mar'ashi, is your political ally. The chairman of the Council for Ensuring Security in Qom, Mr. Baharam Sarmast, has a clearly reformist past. The current health minister, Mr. [Saeed] Namaki, is the choice of [Iranian Vice President Masoumeh] Ebtekar. You have the answers to your questions. Shame on you!"
Twitter interchange of Tajzadeh and Dehbashi??, February 24, 2020.
Photos: Coronavirus In Iran
Citizens in the streets. ILNA, Iran, February 24, 2020.
ILNA, Iran, February 24, 2020.
Top: Chinese students visiting Qom, from Telegram channel of Amir Moqaddam, former PR director and liaison between the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the Majlis; bottom: Announcement in Persian of a Qom workshop for Iranian students wishing to learn Chinese (Source: T.me/am_moghadam/455?single, February 20, 2020)
 See MEMRI TV Clip No. 7833, Iranian Deputy Health Minister Harirchi: We Oppose Quarantines; If We Shut Down Qom, People Would Go Traveling, Spreading Coronavirus All Over the Country, February 24, 2020.
 T.me/am_moghadam/455?single, February 20, 2020.
 See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1502, The Recurring Scam Of Allegedly Democratic Elections In Iran: The 11th Majlis Elections – A Continuation Of Khamenei's Dictatorship Through His Councils, February 19, 2020.
 ILNA (Iran), February 24, 2020.
 Peykeiran.com/Content.aspx?ID=200948, February 22, 2020