The Wuhan coronavirus epidemic in Iran is so severe that even the tightly controlled Iranian press is beginning to question the government’s absurdly low official statistics for the number of infections and fatalities.
The BBC noticed a striking example on Monday, a headline that literally questioned the statistics coming from the regime.
Here's an example of the first seeds of doubt in the Iranian press over official coronavirus stats.
Headline from financial daily Eqtesad-e Saramad: "Statistics: that is the question!" pic.twitter.com/ADU3vaqcyK
— BBC Monitoring (@BBCMonitoring) March 11, 2020
An Iranian state television host fell on his knees Tuesday and begged his audience in the province of Yazd to “stay at home” so they do not contract the virus. Officials in Yazd declared an “emergency situation” on Sunday.
This is quite a change from the attitude taken by state media just a few weeks ago, when the coronavirus was dismissed as “less dangerous than the flu,” quarantines were derided as an unnecessary overreaction, and criticism of the central government’s response was treated as seditious.
In late January, Iran was actually marketing itself as a perfect getaway destination for Chinese travelers who wanted to celebrate Lunar New Year away from their own troubled country. Iranian doctors thought a five-day quarantine would be sufficient for any visitors who displayed symptoms of the virus.
While Iranian media grows slowly more critical of the secular government, the Iranian people seem to have lost a good deal of reverence for the theocracy during the coronavirus crisis.
Iran’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is still trying to downplay the threat of the virus. Religious shrines and ceremonies played an indisputable role in helping the epidemic spread so quickly, made worse by religious leaders who touted the “healing” properties of the shrines.
Another ayatollah named Abbas Tabrizian, hailed by his followers as the “father of Islamic medicine in Iran,” became a figure of both local and international mockery for claiming the coronavirus can be held at bay by rubbing a cotton ball dipped in violet oil across the anus. An Iran-based religious scholar with over a million followers named Hadi al-Modarresi who raised a stir by claiming the virus was “undoubtedly an act of Allah that is divine punishment against the Chinese for their treatment, mockery, and disrespect towards Muslims and Islam” admitted on Wednesday that he himself has contracted the disease.
“The situation is very difficult; the authorities do not provide the exact figures of the dead. They have even arrested a staff member who shot film inside a hospital, where you could see it was filled with dead people inside a cellar. And the situation is much worse now. Hospitals are at capacity. No one is reporting the real death toll,” a young Iranian professional told Fox News on Tuesday.