On November 2, Iran’s coronavirus daily death toll hit a new record with 440 fatalities. However, medical sources believe the actual number is much higher than official statistics.
Since the beginning of the health crisis, the Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) frequently rejected official death counts as “fabricated numbers.” In this respect, the PMOI/MEK gathered and published separate statistics through its vast domestic networks throughout the country.
According to the opposition’s November 2 statement, “Over 140,600 people have died of the novel coronavirus in 462 cities checkered across all of Iran’s 31 provinces as of Monday afternoon local time, November 2.” The official death counts stood at 35,738 on the same day.
Now, the head of Iran’s Medical Council Mohammad Reza Zafarghandi is also questioning the accuracy of the official death toll. “The actual death toll was at least three times higher than the official count,” he said in an interview with the semi-official ISNA news agency on November 1.
Furthermore, since mid-October, medical experts called on the National Covid-19 Task Force to impose a lockdown on the Iranian capital Tehran due to the new surge of coronavirus cases. However, the Covid-19 Task Force dismissed the calls, which caused more deaths.
Finally, after two weeks of ignored warnings, while according to Tehran City Council member Mohammad Salari, rampant poverty and coronavirus have turned the social situation into a “fragile state,” the Covid-19 Task Force, led by the president, decided to impose a severe lockdown.
To Counter Coronavirus, Iranian Authorities Use Military Forces Instead of Medical Staff
Surprisingly, instead of the health apparatus, Iranian authorities resorted to military forces, including the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and paramilitary Basij forces, to contain the health crisis. “We have decided today to impose restrictions on 25 provinces and 46 cities with certain circumstances. Restrictions on 43 previous cities have been extended, and there will be restrictions on 25 provincial capitals from Wednesday to Friday next week,” said President Hassan Rouhani in a joint meeting with Armed Forces Chief of Staff and Police Chief on October 31.
The IRGC Chief-Commander Hossein Salami also stepped further and unveiled the government’s oppressive home-by-home inspections “to attack coronavirus trenches!”
“As a part of a national plan, a door-to-door operation will go underway in search of the coronavirus carriers. We will attack the places where the coronavirus has settled or spread,” Salami claimed.
Earlier, Majid Mokhtari, member of the National Covid-19 Task Force, spoke about imposing martial law. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a grave issue that may require imposing martial law in addition to quarantine,” he said in a program aired on national television.
On the other hand, the government launched an air force drill on November 2 despite the country’s health sector being in extreme need of budget and thousands of medical staff not having received their paychecks for months. Iranian authorities also allocated a significant part of the country’s annual budget to oppressive apparatuses.
In contrast, despite the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s vow to allocate one billion euros to the Health Ministry, Saeed Namaki, the Health Minister, time and again announced his department did not receive more than 30 percent of the specified amount.
Defeating the Coronavirus or Discouraging Iranian Protesters
Nonetheless, on the cusp of the first anniversary of the November 2019 protests, Iranian authorities are deeply concerned about the possibility of another round of nationwide demonstrations. In this respect, contrary to their remarks about the Covid-19 outbreak, officials have practically intensified oppressive measures to contain public outrage.
If the government was concerned about the health and lives of Tehran’s residents, the President, as the head of the National Covid-19 Task Force, should have closed the capital since mid-October. Furthermore, he should have argued to receive more budget for the health department, not deploying those responsible for killing over 1,500 defenseless protesters in November 2019.
In this respect, the Iranian government is apparently taking advantage of the health crisis to prevent any congregation and assembly in commemoration of the 2019 protests. Earlier, the supreme leader emphasized the importance of security in one of his speeches, which triggered a new round of raids and arrests by the state security forces in different provinces.
Iranian authorities realize that the coronavirus does not threaten their hold on power. However, the public fury and distrust can shake their ruling system’s pillars severely. The coronavirus crisis would be a game-changer either to benefit authorities or to prompt more protests. In this context, the government tries to exploit the health crisis to cause despair among the people and prevent any protest.