Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated terrorist organization, on Wednesday claimed scientists under its control are close to developing a vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus, which is spreading like wildfire through Iran.
The commander of the IRGC, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, said on Thursday that the virus could be an American bio-weapon that spread to Iran after the United States used it to attack China.
According to an Al-Monitor report on Wednesday, the IRGC’s claims fit neatly into regime propaganda about “astonishing the world” by beating everyone else to a cure. Iranian health officials appear not to know what the IRGC is talking about, but they also have not called its leaders out as liars:
A medical research center affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) says it is testing a vaccine that promises to eradicate the killer coronavirus. According to Brig. Gen. Alireza Jalali, the president of Baqiatollah Medical Sciences University, the vaccine is awaiting permits from Iran’s Food and Drug Organization to enter the clinical phase.
No further details have been released on the vaccine. But in a statement March 4, the Food and Drug Organization “strongly denied” all recent “reports and rumors” on social media that had claimed a breakthrough in the fight against the virus. Still, the organization, which has the final authority on the production and distribution of medicines in Iran, did not make specific reference to the IRGC announcement.
The IRGC is also working to develop its own testing kits within 12 months. The scarcity of testing kits has been one of the impediments to proper handling of the outbreak in Iran.
Last week, Health Minister Saeed Namaki confidently declared in a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Iran will soon “astonish the world by bringing the virus to its knees.” Only two days later, he was lamenting domestic hoarding of medical supplies and how it is depriving ordinary Iranians and his colleagues at hospitals of face masks and other badly needed protective equipment.
Al-Monitor added a darkly humorous postscript about the regime’s propaganda efforts: one of its brainstorms was to launch a “dance challenge” social media campaign to help the public “stay cheerful and spread optimism,” but since dancing is banned in Iran as offensive to Islam, the dancers must conceal their identities beneath masks and gowns or risk arrest by the morality police.
Iran’s official death toll from the coronavirus is 92, with 2,922 reported infections. 586 new cases were reported on Wednesday, including 15 fatalities.
As with authoritarian China, there are widespread suspicions the regime is dramatically under-counting both infections and deaths. Some of those allegations come from local Iranian government officials and hospital staffers.
Sources inside the Iranian healthcare system told the BBC last week that the actual death toll is at least six times higher than the regime is willing to admit. The Iranian opposition believes the actual death toll is over 1,300 and accuses the regime of making the epidemic worse by concealing its true extent for so long.
Radio Farda on Wednesday cited researchers who said Iran’s surge of new cases represents the regime becoming more honest about the scale of the epidemic after weeks of obvious false reporting, but Tehran is still nowhere near full transparency. Among other obvious deficiencies, the regime has stopped reporting new cases and deaths from the epicenter of the outbreak, the city of Qom:
Observers outside Iran including researchers in the United States and Europe agree that after several days of denial and playing down the number of those inflicted with the virus, Iran has started to announce more realistic figures since Tuesday that give a clearer picture of the outbreak’s dimension. However, there is likely to be a gap between real figures and what is being announced.
For at least two weeks Iran did not give away any figures and when it did it started with announcing with unusually small numbers while the public knew about deaths and widespread contagion at least in the three cities of Qom, Tehran and Rasht.
Three weeks into the outbreak, still the latest overall figures released by the Iranian government Tuesday morning, did not include information about Qom, Tehran and Gilan Province.
Radio Farda noted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stopped talking about the coronavirus. He does not really have to say anything since a growing number of top officials infected by the virus are conspicuously missing from his cabinet meetings.
The New York Times on Tuesday quoted sources in Iran who said their rulers “seem as worried about controlling information as they are about controlling the virus”:
Several said security agents stationed in each hospital had forbidden staff members from disclosing any information about shortages, patients or fatalities related to the coronavirus.
A nurse in a northwest Iranian city sent a private message to her family — later shared with The New York Times — describing a letter from the security service warning that sharing information about infected patients constitutes a “threat to national security” and “public fear mongering.” Such offenses “will be swiftly dealt with by a disciplinary committee,” the nurse said the letter had warned.
The secrecy and paranoia, doctors and other experts say, reflects what they call a counterproductive focus on Iran’s public image and prestige that appears to be damaging public trust and hindering more practical steps at containment.
On Thursday, IRGC commander Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami was delivering a homily to the former commander of the Quds Force foreign espionage unit, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. airstrike in January while organizing terrorist activity in Iraq. During these remarks, Salami said the coronavirus epidemic could be the result of an “American biological invasion” launched against China. Salami speculated the American bio-weapon spread out of control and jumped from China to Iran.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which has been criticized for obsequious behavior towards China while the coronavirus epidemic was spreading from Wuhan, chose this moment to bizarrely praise Iran for doing a great job of containing the disease – and, as with China, the Iranian regime used state media to capitalize on the propaganda opportunity provided by WHO. From a Thursday report by Iran’s Fars News Agency:
“This is my second trip to Iran and according to my experiences, Iran is strong in managing crisis,” Bernan said on Wednesday in a video conference with managers of Tehran Municipality.
He referred to the check posts established at Iranian international airports, and said, “Iranian managers are paying a specific attention to curbing the virus.”
The WHO official added that Iran can exchange its acquired knowledge of the virus to the world, since it is getting experienced in dealing with it.
On the same day, as reported, Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) Esmaeil Baqayee Hamaneh met and held talks with Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva.
During the meeting, the two sides discussed further cooperation on Iran’s strategic plan for the control of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, emphasizing the need for international cooperation to control the disease.
The World Health Organization on Monday sent its first planeload of assistance to Iran to help fight coronavirus, dispatching six medics with tons of medical equipment and test kits aboard a UAE military aircraft.
WHO apologists will doubtless offer the same defense given for its behavior toward China: the organization must flatter the paranoid and brutal regime in Tehran to gain its cooperation and maintain international medical access to infected people in Iran.
Whatever the merits of this political strategy, it resulted in the delirious spectacle of WHO saluting Iran’s performance as “successful and exemplary” while the virus runs amok in the totalitarian Islamist country, prisoners are released by the thousands to slow the coronavirus rampage through Iran’s disgusting jails, and the disease spreads relentlessly from Iran to Shiite Muslim populations across the Middle East.