Tehran: Iran’s government vowed Monday to be transparent after being accused of covering up the deadliest coronavirus outbreak outside China. The country dismissed claims the toll could be as high as 50.
The authorities in the Islamic Republic have come under mounting public pressure since it took days for them to admit to ‘accidentally’ shooting down a Ukrainian airliner last month, killing 176 people.
The government said Monday that Iran’s coronavirus death toll had jumped by four to 12 – by far the highest outside China – as its neighbours closed their borders and imposed strict quarantine measures.
But Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, a lawmaker from the holy city of Qom, south of Tehran, alleged the government was ‘lying’ about the full extent of the outbreak. The ‘ILNA news agency’, which is close to reformists, said the lawmaker spoke of ‘50 deaths’ in Qom alone.
“The rest of the media have not published this figure, but we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people’s lives are in danger,” ‘ILNA’ editor Fatemeh Mahdiani told this agency.
Incidentally, Farahani was wearing a face mask during the closed session of parliament but left after speaking, as he felt unwell, state news agency ‘IRNA’ reported, adding sanitary workers then cleaned his seat.
Iran’s government rejected his claim that the virus had killed 50 in Qom. “I categorically deny this information,” Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi said in a news conference aired live on state television. “This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem,” he added.
The government has pledged transparency over the outbreak. “We will announce any figures (we have) on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures,” its spokesman Ali Rabiei said.
Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it announced Wednesday the first two deaths in Qom. Authorities have since ordered the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres across the country as a ‘preventive measure’.
The worst-hit province for infections is Qom, with 34 cases, according to health ministry figures. The others are in Tehran with 13 infections, Gilan with six, Markazi with four, Isfahan with two and one each for Hamedan and Mazandaran.