Iran Using Anti-Protest Water Cannons to ‘Crack Down on Coronavirus’

Police use water cannon outside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to disperse protesters in Hong Kong on November 17, 2019. - Hong Kong police clashed with pro-democracy activists who vowed to "squeeze the economy" as the increasingly divided city reels from one of the worst weeks of violence in the …

Security forces deployed drones and water cannons across Iran on Tuesday in a bid to contain the coronavirus, a sign of the severity of the country’s outbreak.

Footage broadcast by Iranian state media showed water cannons, usually used to disperse anti-government demonstrations, spraying the streets with disinfectant. A banner on the side of one of the vehicles read: “Operation Crackdown on Corona.”

The use of these measures comes as Iran grapples with the most severe levels of contagion outside China. Iran’s Health Ministry confirmed that 77 people have now died of the disease, while there are now over 1,500 confirmed cases nationwide. Multiple reports from both within Iran and in international news agencies have challenged these statistics as significantly lower than the real numbers. This weekend, BBC Persia cited health sources claiming that at least 210 people may have already died, far above the official figure.

Among the fatalities was Mohammad Mirmohammadi, who served as a member of the council that advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei. Meanwhile, around a dozen senior government officials have reportedly contracted the virus, including the deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced on Tuesday that 300,000 members of Iranian security forces would begin a house-to-house campaign assessing individuals at risk of the virus, suggesting the regime fears that many Iranians are not reporting or seeking treatment for their symptoms.  He also ordered hospitals to focus on treating the disease and canceled public events including Friday prayers in order to help contain the outbreak.

Representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived in Iran on Monday to examine and oversee the management of the outbreak, bringing 100,000 test kits and laboratory and medical equipment. WHO officials are believed to be particularly concerned about countries such as Iran, whose healthcare systems are considered too weak and underresourced to effectively deal with the crisis.

In a tweet following their arrival, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif thanked the WHO for its assistance, claiming that U.S. economic sanctions had endangered sufferers. He also made a plea for additional medical supplies, including “face masks, ventilators, surgical gowns and test kits for the coronavirus.”

On Saturday, President Donald Trump announced a complete travel ban on Iran in response to the outbreak, affecting all individuals who were “physically present within Iran during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.”

“Iran is not a trustworthy state actor, as it has repeatedly demonstrated through its history of engaging in malign activity,” Trump said in a statement. “The United States Government is therefore unable to rely on official information disseminated by Iran, undermining the effective evaluation and monitoring of travelers continuing to arrive from that country.”

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