Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday that the United States remains “deeply concerned” that Iran may be covering up data relating to the spread of the Chinese coronavirus, calling on nations around the world to “tell the truth” about their situation.
Speaking to reports in a press briefing, Pompeo accused Iran of hiding information pertaining to the number of their citizens who have contracted the virus. Estimates from the World Health Organization show that 15 people have died following a total of 43 confirmed cases; figures from within the country are highly disputed.
This week, an Iranian lawmaker claimed that 50 people have died in the city of Qom. The country’s deputy health minister, who announced he himself had tested positive for the disease Tuesday, said that 12 people had died after contracting the coronavirus. That number had risen by Wednesday, but the official did not approximate the numbers of hundreds allegedly infected.
The number of Iranian fatalities remains the highest outside of China, where a majority of the 2,600 deaths have occurred following its initial outbreak in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province. Iran’s neighbors – Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – have closed their land borders, while Iraq has stopped flights from Iran (as well as from China, Italy, South Korea and Singapore).
“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating that the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo said. “As of yesterday afternoon, Iran was second only to China in coronavirus deaths … All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations.”
He also accused China of suppressing data and failing to best equip itself to handle the outbreak. His comments were a reference to China’s decision to expel three reporters from the Wall Street Journal after the paper published an editorial criticizing Beijing’s handling of the crisis.
“We also want to applaud the brave reporters who are covering the spread of coronavirus from Wuhan itself,” said Pompeo. “Expelling our journalists exposes, once again, the governance issue that led to SARS, and now, the coronavirus, namely censorship. It can have deadly consequences.”
“Had China permitted its own and foreign journalists and medical personnel to speak and investigate freely, Chinese officials and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge,” he continued.
Pompeo also outlined America’s own response to the epidemic, including travel restrictions, mandatory quarantines, and international cooperation:
As the President made clear, our first priority is to protect the homeland. We’ve imposed prudent travel restrictions and strong travel advisories to slow the spread of the virus to the United States. All known American carriers of the coronavirus are in isolation and treatment, and healthy travelers who traveled from high-risk locations – namely, Hubei Province and the Diamond Princess cruise ship – were placed in mandatory quarantine upon return to the United States.
“Outside of our borders, the State Department continues to do an enormous amount of work to review developments inside and outside of China, and to help countries who have been stricken by the virus,” he added.