With 19 fatalities, Iran is the country with the most deaths from the corona virus outside of China. Now the government is criticized – and an airline that is supported by hardliners.
The official information from the Iranian government shows a bleak picture. Accordingly, the corona virus spread in Iran in a very short time. And the death rate of 13 percent is significantly higher than anywhere else in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has therefore sent a team of experts to Iran.
Even the coronavirus officer is sick
According to official information from Wednesday, a total of 19 people died from the coronavirus. The number of infected has risen to 139, said the Ministry of Health in Tehran. The coronavirus officer of the Iraj Harirschi government is also among those infected.
As of Monday, Harirschi had assured journalists without a face mask that everything was under control and quarantine measures were out of the question. On Tuesday, however, he had to admit on state television: “I’ve been a ‘Coronaer’ since last night.” It had been tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 itself. Nationwide, schools remained closed on Wednesday. The government has asked all citizens to stay at home.
Ruhani: “Enemies want to stir up fear”
Iranian President Hassan Ruhani said Tuesday afternoon that everything was under control. He accused Iran’s enemies of wanting to stir up fear. Shortly before, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had accused the Iranian authorities of keeping the people from the true extent of the epidemic. In fact, there are serious doubts about the information provided by the Iranian government.
A specially formed committee is to inform the people of Iran about fighting Covid-19. It is headed by government spokesman Ali Rabiei. The latter had warned the Iranian media against turning the outbreak into a political issue. Everything is under control, the official statistics are correct.
Shortly before, however, MP Ahmad Amirabadi-Farahani had briefed a journalist in a background discussion during a closed meeting in parliament that 50 people had died of the virus in his constituency, the city of Qom, alone as of Wednesday last week (February 19). This number is significantly higher than the official statistics. The MP also called for quarantine and aid to Qom.
The rector of the Medical University in Qom had made a similar statement. The situation in the city is “critical,” said Mohammad-Reza Ghadir on state television. Higher government agencies have instructed local authorities to stop publishing new numbers.
Qom classified as a “risk area”
Tehran does not deny that most of the infected life or have been in Qom. The city, a good 130 kilometers south of the capital, is one of the holy sites of the Shiites and a popular place of pilgrimage. The German Robert Koch Institute, the central research facility for infectious diseases, also classified the province of the same name as the Chinese province of Hubei as a risk area.
Overall, government announcements are met with great skepticism among the population. Videos are spreading via social networks showing the poor supply situation in the hospitals. The test kits for the coronavirus are not even sufficiently available.
At the same time, Qom is a center for Islamic studies. 700 students from China study Islamic theology here. In the shadow of US sanctions, China has become Iran’s largest trading partner.
How much influence China has in Iran became apparent in early February. At the time, the Iranian government had decided to completely discontinue flight connections to China because of the corona epidemic. Two days later, China’s ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, invited the manager of Mahan Air, Hamid Arabnejad, to his residence. Ambassador Chang then tweeted that Mahan Air would continue to do business with China.
Chinese companies in Iran donated 250,000 mouthguards to the Iranian Ministry of Health on Tuesday as a “friendly gesture to a close ally in difficult times,” said Ambassador Chang. Further relief supplies would follow.
Mahan Air in the Twilight
Mahan Air is owned by the “Molly Al-Mohaddin” religious foundation, which is close to the hardliners. The airline is considered to be one of the companies in Iran trying to circumvent international sanctions and provide the regime with foreign exchange.
Since January 2019, Mahan Air is no longer allowed to fly to Germany. The Federal Aviation Office has withdrawn the largest private airline in Iran from operating permits to “safeguard Germany’s foreign and security policy interests,” it said. Mahan Air was suspected of being involved in the transportation of weapons and ammunition from Iran to Syria despite UN sanctions.
Ebadi demands consistency
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and lawyer, is now calling on the Iranian government to open preliminary proceedings against Mahan Air’s managing director, Hamid Arabnejad. In her opinion, with the support of the political hardliners, Arabnejad put Iranian people at risk by continuing to fly to China, although the government had explicitly banned flights to China.
Iranian journalists have examined flight schedules for the past three weeks. Mahan Air operated 55 flights to China between February 5 and 23. Flightradar24, the online aircraft positioning service, registered nine Mahan Air flights to the Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou in February.
Mahan Air does not want to be responsible for the corona crisis in Iran. On February 20, Mahan Air confirmed that some aircraft had flown to China since the beginning of February. On behalf of the government, they had transported humanitarian goods to China and adhered to all security measures.