Iran’s coronavirus situation is rapidly deteriorating. It’s symbolic that at least 23 Iranian Members of Parliament (MPs), as well as the country’s head of emergency medical services, are now infected with the virus.
Iran now has over 2300 confirmed coronavirus cases, 77 fatalities, and the situation seems to be spiraling out of control.
To say that Iran is struggling with Covid-19 would be an understatement. The country now has the most fatalities outside of China (where the outbreak originated), and there are concerns that the number of cases is much higher than the confirmed number.
The case fatality rate of the disease seems to be 2% in the Hubei province in China, where the outbreak originated, and around 1% elsewhere in the world. This means that there is a huge discrepancy between the confirmed fatalities and confirmed cases in Iran — the 77 fatalities suggest a much higher number of cases. For comparison, South Korea has under 30 fatalities for over 5,000 cases. This could be partially expected by differences in healthcare, but this is unlikely to account for the entire difference.
After downplaying the coronavirus risks (which seems to be a common trend), Iran is realizing that the threat is much more pressing.
Iranian authorities announced plans mobilize 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus, though it’s not clear how the recruits will aid in efforts to contain the virus (potentially helping sanitize streets and track contacts of those ill with the virus).
For Iran, this is a political crisis as well as a health crisis. The newly elected government is isolated, its economy is affected, and the neighboring states of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Turkey have shut down their borders, putting even more strain on Iran’s trade. The surge of cases (and the discrepancy between fatalities and confirmed cases) also raises suspicions that Iranian officials may have hidden the existence of the outbreak for several weeks. The fact that high-ranking officials are becoming infected only serves to accentuate suspicions of mishandling the situation.
The social situation is also unusual in Iran, compared to other countries affected by the outbreak. In the more affluent areas, schools, universities, theatres, and cinemas are all closed. Restaurants and social centers are almost empty and there is a feeling of desolation among local business owners. But in the poorer areas, life is continuing unchanged, even as the disease creeps its way into the community. People simply can’t afford to self-quarantine and take necessary precautions, which could further help spread the disease.
In a desperate attempt to combat the spread of the coronavirus in crowded jails, Iran has temporarily released more than 54,000 prisoners with light sentences.
Events in Iran also hold a precautionary story for other countries: the more officials try to downplay the dangers of the outbreak, the worse it is in the long run, and the more they lose the population’s trust.