The coronavirus epidemic is devastating Iran more than any other country in the region, and sadly, it hasn’t come as much of a surprise to those familiar with the incompetence of the mullahs who rule the Islamic Republic.
On Wednesday, Iranian authorities reported that there were 9,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the country. They also reported that the death toll spiked 600 percent, moving from 62 to 354 deaths as a result of the epidemic. Moreover, Iran’s senior vice president and two other top officials have contracted the virus, AP reported.
These high numbers still need to be taken with immense skepticism, especially given that many experts and even Islamic Republic authorities have dismissed them as being too low. Videos have emerged of bodies lining the streets, and given that Tehran has consistently attempted to sweep the issue under the rug. But even if the numbers are accurate, the admitted spike in casualties and confirmed cases showcases that the regime continues to botch its response to the outbreak, and makes Iranians the victims of their government’s incompetence.
While Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors were instituting proactive policies meant to stop the outbreak, such as temporarily halting pilgrimages, limiting inbound tourism, and encouraging social distancing, authorities in Iran took a nonchalant and dismissive approach to the initial outbreak.
Tehran first denied that there was any crisis whatsoever and even proclaimed that no one in the country was at a real risk of contracting the disease. When it became obvious that the coronavirus had infiltrated Iran, Islamic Republic authorities acknowledged the reality but proceeded with the public relations strategy of minimizing the impact on the country. Both in its external communications to the world and its internal statements to Iranian citizens, Tehran officials refused to acknowledge the severity of the problem at hand.
The negligence and deficiencies of Islamic Republic authorities has had implications for the entire region. Although the coronavirus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, many in the Middle East have taken to describing the coronavirus outbreak in the region as the “Qom virus.” This is not just because tensions are high, coupled with longstanding regional grievances. There are statistical reasons for this new label. The Iranian city of Qom is the regional epicenter of the outbreak. Iran, not China, has been pinpointed as the source of the coronavirus cases in neighboring countries. In recent days, medical officials in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, and elsewhere have pinpointed Iran, and not China, as the source of their infected coronavirus patients.
It doesn’t take a PhD in microbiology to figure out why the coronavirus outbreak is devastating Iran, and specifically, the holy city of Qom. Qom is a city visited by millions of Shia pilgrims from all over the world each year, which should make it a major and obvious priority item when it comes to managing global epidemics.
Saudi Arabian officials provided a roadmap to the rational response to this vulnerability when they recently decided to limit pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina. Yet Islamic Republic leaders took the exact opposite approach. They encouraged people to continue visiting Qom. In the early stages of the outbreak in Iran, an influential cleric and representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told Iranians that Qom was a “place of healing,” insinuating that there is not only nothing to worry about, but that the city itself had healing qualities that could help people suffering from the coronavirus. Another cleric offered bizarre, pseudoscientific actions as a means to “cure” Iranians of the coronavirus. The results have been both predictable and disastrous for the civilian population.
The people of Iran are used to having to suffer because of the inadequacies of Tehran’s leadership, but now, the region as a whole is experiencing the tragic impact of the coronavirus-bungling regime.