As Iran’s Coronavirus Death Toll Rises, There’s One Thing Its Regime Can Be Grateful For

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus and number of those infected with the disease in Iran on the rise, the government has officially confirmed 237 deaths and additional 7,161 infected with COVID-19 so far. However, members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahideen-e-Khalq, who operate outside Iran, reported much higher numbers Saturday, claiming over 1,800 Iranian deaths from the virus, while tens of thousands have contracted it.

Already with the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Middle East, Iranian government officials have warned over the weekend that the number could spike to over 450,000, warning that many of the patients might die. Iran's worsening situation has isolated the country far beyond what the American sanctions against Tehran sought to achieve, as Iranian nationals are barred from entering Turkey and Gulf states, and are subject to harsh restrictions upon their entry to Iraq.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the police, and the Iranian military have imposed a closure on the holy city of Qom, where the first cases of the virus in the republic began in January before spreading to the rest of the country, and where many prominent Shi’ite seminaries operate. All Qom residents who seek to leave must pass through checkpoints set up at all city entrances and undergo a medical examination in a sealed, military vehicle before they are permitted to leave. Shortly after the rapid spread in Qom, hospitals in the city were overflowing with patients, causing a shortage of beds, according to Iranian reports.

Several days ago the Iranian regime announced that it would establish 14 mobile hospitals that could absorb some 2,000 coronavirus patients. The government, however, added that it has encountered difficulties in recruiting the necessary staff to man these hospitals.

A member of Iraqi Border Guards is seen at the gate of Shalamcha Border Crossing, after Iraq shut a border crossing to travellers between Iraq and Iran, March 8, 2020. ESSAM AL-SUDANI/ REUTERS

The government also has to confront clerics who claim that the virus is “biological terror” controlled by Iran’s enemies, and that worshipers should pray at mosques for the eradication of the scourge “which is intended to drive a wedge between the people of faith and God and isolate the country.” Many religious people have begun posting videos of themselves licking and kissing mosque decorations as a cure and a preventive measure against the disease, while authorities are warning against large gatherings, and schools and universities have already been shuttered.

Iran is also the country in which the largest number of government officials and members of political elite have been stricken by the virus. At least 23 Iranian lawmakers have caught the disease, and two have died. The Islamic Republic's deputy health minister, a senior adviser to the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and President Hassan Rohani’s two advisers are among those who contracted the disease. In addition, Hossein Sheikholeslam, who served as former ambassador to Syria and advisor to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, as well as adviser to Khamenei on Middle Eastern affairs, died from the disease over the weekend.