Iran sees massive COVID-19 spike amid widespread distrust of regime

By Al-Mashareq

An Iranian public hospital's COVID-19 ward is shown in February. []

An Iranian public hospital's COVID-19 ward is shown in February. []

Distrust of the Iranian regime and its pandemic narrative is at an all time high amid a massive surge of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Starting last Saturday (April 10), all regions across Iran underwent varying degrees of restrictions based on how the government colour-coded them, with red showing the highest number of positive cases, followed by orange.

The government's own data show that 80% of Iran's urban areas are either red or orange. Of those, 257 cities are red and 129 are orange.

The latest official figures, which are likely lower than the actual, show close to 2.1 million positive COVID-19 cases and a total death toll of 64,764 as of Monday.

Iranians wearing face masks in Tehran on March 29 as COVID-19 infections rise across the country. [AFP]

Iranians wearing face masks in Tehran on March 29 as COVID-19 infections rise across the country. [AFP]

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's administration has for weeks been rejecting calls for another lockdown, months after a previous one was mandated.

Prior to the Iranian new year, Iran's Health Ministry repeatedly asked the public to avoid travelling for the two-week holiday starting on March 21 but stopped short of a lockdown mandate or a strict ban on domestic and international travel.

On April 8, however, the government was forced to give in to the exhausted medical facilities, overwhelmed intensive care units and rising cases of death in the country.

Distrust of regime

Decades of disinformation have left many Iranians refusing to trust the regime on its guidance and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The regime at the onset of the pandemic last year denied its spread and kept quiet about the number of infections and fatalities until after the conclusion of the parliamentary elections.

This delay in reporting enabled the virus to spread on a wide scale.

After a growing death toll forced the Iranian government to acknowledge the outbreak, officials began to lie about the number of hospitalisations and deaths.

Even now, it is unclear if official figures mirror actual facts.

A BBC Persian service investigation found December last year that the number of deaths from coronavirus in Iran was nearly triple what the Iranian regime publicly claimed.

Tehran also spread a number of conspiracy theories, most notably that the United States created the virus, in an attempt to deflect blame from how the Iranian regime bungled its handling of the outbreak.

In yet another coverup, the regime attempted to suppress information that Mahan Air, owned in part by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was a key vector in the devastating outbreak of coronavirus in Iran and in the consequent spread of the deadly virus throughout the region and beyond.

Evidence shows that Mahan Air continued to operate dozens of flights between Iran and China during the height of the coronavirus spread last year, despite an official Iranian ban on such flights and in defiance of common-sense healthcare practices.

More recently, amid an overwhelming increase in COVID-19 cases last fall and winter, the Rouhani administration repeatedly lied about being unable to purchase and import flu shots, once again blaming US sanctions.

Those lies were exposed by leaked reports of Majles members getting the flu shot.

Flu shots were reportedly also sold to the rich and well-connected on the black market at high prices.

Vaccine disinformation

The Iranian government has repeatedly misinformed its citizens over COVID-19 vaccines.

It has falsely claimed it cannot access vaccines because of sanctions, even as the United Nations' COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) dedicated a vaccine allowance to Iran. The United States also approved a shipment of vaccines to Iran in December.

Reports of vaccine shipments and domestic manufacturing change almost daily.

Iranian leader Ali Khamenei in January banned the government from importing COVID-19 vaccines from the United States and United Kingdom, revealing that he prioritises political alliances over the Iranian public's health and interests.

On the heels of the ban, government officials said they would buy the vaccine "from a certain country", refusing to name the source for fear of backlash and protest against the distrusted Chinese and Russian vaccines.

Even Iran's own public health officials who work as members of its COVID-19 Task Force have expressed such distrust.

The Rouhani administration eventually purchased Sputnik vaccines from Russia. While the first shipment did arrive, the second was postponed for financial issues, according to Iran's Health Ministry.

Instead of focusing on vaccinations and the crippled economy, Khamenei has continued to use the IRGC's Quds Force (IRGC-QF) to fund regional proxies and push forward expansionist policies.

The IRGC's prioritising of regional intervention over the Iranian people has resulted in further discontent with the regime inside Iran and contempt for Tehran and Iranians overseas.

All this leaves the majority of the suffering public with nothing but disdain and distrust for their government.

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