While denying that coronavirus is reaching epidemic proportions, the Iranian government is taking drastic measures to prevent the spread of accurate information about the epidemic.
It appears that the government of Iran is especially hard-hit by the coronavirus leading to Iran’s parliament announcing on Friday that it will stop meeting temporarily. Mohammad Ali Vakili, a member of the parliamentary presidium, said in a tweet on Friday that four of 30 lawmakers in the Majlis, or parliament, tested positive for the virus. Masoumeh Ebtekar, the vice president for women and family affairs, and Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirshi were also reportedly infected.
IRNA News reported that Iran’s former Ambassador to Vatican Sayyed Hadi Khosroshahi died on Thursday, one day after being admitted to the hospital with the coronavirus.
It was later reported that one of the MPs, Mohammad Ali Ramazani Dastak, died from the coronavirus on Saturday. Dastak was elected to the parliament last Saturday. Officials later denied Dastak died from COVID -19, stating that he tested negative and that he succumbed to respiratory and pulmonary disease.
Iranian authorities announced on Saturday that the death toll in the country from coronavirus stood at 43, the highest number outside China. The total number of infected people has risen to 593 with most of the cases being in Tehran.
This was contradicted by sources in Iran’s healthcare system who told BBC Persian that at least 210 people have died from the coronavirus, contradicting the official Iranian health ministry report of 34 dead. Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour accused the BBC of spreading lies.
The government data have also been questioned by other media. The Guardian and AFP cited the semi-official ILNA news agency that reported the claims of Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a government official from the city of Qom, as saying that at least 50 people have died in that city alone. Farahani claimed that 250 people are quarantined in the city.
Protests broke out between security forces and citizens angry at the government’s handling of the crisis with videos surfacing on social media of clashes.
Hassan Norouzi, the spokesman for the parliament’s legal and judicial committee, told the Tehran Times that the government had instituted a 3-year jail sentence for those who spread fake news or rumors about coronavirus in the country.
“The move has been taken as spreading lies according to the Islamic punishment law based on which those who commit the crime will be sentenced to between one up to three years in jail as well as flogging,” Norouzi said. “Spreading fake news over coronavirus outbreak will people panic. It also will pave the ground for the country’s shutdown,” the lawmaker added.
Prayers in Tehran and 22 other cities were canceled on Friday, and schools and universities closed. In Tehran, the capital city, authorities have ordered snack shops and water fountains in subway stations to close, and buses and subway trains to be disinfected daily, AFP reported.
The Health Ministry advised against all public events, such as weddings or funerals. Schools and universities, along with cultural gathering places such as cinemas, theaters, and concert halls, have all been closed.
Voter turnout last week for parliament elections was a record low with 42.57% of eligible voters showing up at the polls. In capital city Tehran, voter turnout was around 25%. The low turnout favored the hardline pro-Ayatollah candidates.
At least 11 countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Armenia, and Turkey closed their borders with Iran. Other regional countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, UAE, Oman, and Georgia have also imposed travel and immigration restrictions.Qatar Airways also announced that it would quarantine passengers arriving from Iran and South Korea for 14 days, even if they show no signs of the coronavirus.