During his speech on March 18, the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, announced that as soon as his administration realized the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) entered Iran on February 19th, they informed the public in a matter of hours in the most honest and truthful way possible. "We spoke to people in an honest way. We had no delay," he added as reported by Asharq Al-Awsat. He carried on saying that there is no plan to quarantine the epicenter of the virus in Iran, i.e. the religious city of Qom. However, as it was later revealed, Mr. President’s statements were far from the truth and were merely a chain of coverups and lies one after another.
Ever since China officially informed the WHO of multiple and rapidly growing cases of pneumonia in Wuhan on December 31st, 2019, Iranian officials knew that Iran was soon going to be the next epicenter. It is because Iran had decided to increase its trade ties with China due to sanctions and the maximum pressure campaign by Donald Trump. Knowing this, many started to forewarn Iran’s administration. "Since late December, I was warning about the spread of the coronavirus and presenting the country's senior officials, including the honorable President, and my proposals to contain it," says Iran’s former health minister on his Instagram page.
By this time, the world knows that the threat is real and growing. Governments in the Middle East and around the world are taking swift and strict actions to prevent or contain the coronavirus spread in their territories. Amidst this, the Iranian government also announces that flights to and from China are temporarily suspended; but one airline, Mahan Air owned by IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), continued flights without the public knowledge according to Arab News. Mahan Air seizes the opportunity to make the flights for the Chinese passengers in the absence of other international airlines.
“Our investigation revealed that from February 4 to February 22 Mahan Air flew at least fifty-five times to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen and back to Iran from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport (IKA),” Radio Farda revealed on January 15, 2020.
IRGC controls all the airports in Iran; IRGC is a paramilitary organization which receives orders from the supreme leader, not the Iranian President, and this allows them to act autonomously. At this time, footage is emerging on the Internet showing Chinese passengers boarding Mahan Air. The memory of the Ukrainian passenger plane shot down by two IRGC missiles killing 167 passengers and 9 crew members were fresh, so the already skeptic people started to circulate the news on the internet very fast that Mahan Air is acting as a vessel for bringing COVID-19 to Iran.
Despite the public pressure, IRGC is still allowing a few more flights from Wuhan to use Iran’s airspace and airports to transfer Chinese passengers. That includes many Chinese religious students who are studying in the religious schools in Qom, Chinese contractors, and Chinese workers.
Iran's Passive Defense Organization holds a meeting in secret. One of the topics in the meeting is suspicious cases of Coronavirus in Qom. In the meeting, whose draft was leaked later on, it is clearly stated that the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution parades and the upcoming parliamentary election are of critical importance for the image of the regime. It is decided that this news is kept secret because its spread will stop people from participating in the parade on February 11 and stops people from coming to ballot boxes on February 21.
The first case is a Chinese citizen who is hospitalized in Tehran. There are other Iranian patients with the same symptoms now in hospitals in Qom, Ilam, Tehran, and Qazvin. Hospitals in these cities are in full alert mode. The wards are being cleared to make room for the COVID-19 patients, but doctors and nurses are warned not to say a word to the public. That is why all precautions are being done with high secrecy.
Despite the regime's suppression on the spread of the news to the public, people upload footage of abnormal activities around hospitals, patients being transported in and out in unprecedented numbers, and doctors being forced to stay on call for days non-stop. To address the rumors and these abnormal sights in hospitals, the ministry of health holds a meeting to calm the public that there is no case of coronavirus in Iran and if anything happens, they will reveal it to the public right away. (Reported on IRNA)
Today marks the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in1979 by which the current Islamic regime came into power. It is an important gesture for the regime to show crowds of its supporters on the streets in jam-packed parades; a show of strength to the world and specifically to the US that sanctions have no effect on the regime. Many high-ranking government officials and the regime’s supporters gathered on the street in crowds. While other governments are discouraging people from forming groups, the regime in Iran puts all its resources into encouraging people to walk shoulder to shoulder with other supporters.
Only 6 days to the important parliamentary election, Qom’s Medical science University publicly and officially announces that there are no cases of COVID-19 in any of the hospitals in Qom, reported by ISNA.
IranWire news agency acquires the Passive Defense meeting draft and publishes it. The government, not seeing any point in hiding the fact any further, releases a statement saying that COVID-19 has entered Iran and 2 individuals, both senior citizens, just lost their lives to this virus. Immediately, the public reacts to it in shock and anger: how is it possible that the government announces for the first time that there were 2 cases and they both died on the same day as they were diagnosed! the virus must have found its way into the country more than 2 weeks ago, many Iranians reacted. Now that the information is out, the state TV tries hard to discount the mortality rate of the virus and its effects on people; the state TV’s agenda is to encourage people to participate in the parliamentary election on February 21 and avoid any public fear.
It is now February 21, the election day. Without any medical precautions. People standing in queues without maintaining distance from each other, everyone using the same ink pad, authorities not wearing masks or gloves are just TV shots broadcast nationally that the election was more important than the lives of Iranian citizens. The turn-out for this election is formally announced around 42.6%: a record low turnout in the history of the regime (according to the BBC).
After weeks of coverups, lies, and secret flights to China, President Rouhani appears on the state TV defending his administration’s actions. He adds that the government has been truthful with its citizens. Despite overwhelming public requests, Rouhani insists that there is no plan to put Qom under quarantine (BBC reports)
In the end, it is quite evident that the spread of coronavirus in Iran was not just an example of failure in taking proper actions by an administration, it was a deliberate decision made by the regime. The countries in the Middle East are keeping a close eye on the regime in Iran which deliberately ignored national and international warnings once the outbreak started.