Iran has had a really, really, really bad year. Iranian lies about COVID19 within their borders might make it much, much worse.


For the Islamic Republic 2020 started off with:

  • The killing of their most famous active military leader, Qasem Soleimani.
  • In an effort to retaliate against US forces for the strike on Soleimani the Iranian military accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner killing all 176 people on board.
  • Multiple earthquakes followed.
  • A massive cyberattack on the nation’s banking system in December exposed nearly a fifth of the country’s personal financial information online.
  • A second major cyberattack at the beginning of February resulted in 25% of Iran’s internet temporarily going down as the nation tried to repel the attack.

All of this occurred against the backdrop of financial difficulties brought on by US sanctions and a growing course of protests to which the government violently cracked down. In November and December, several hundred protesters were killed by government forces. Those are just the numbers Iranian leaders confirmed. Organizations like Amnesty International say the actual death toll of that government crackdown was higher.

Then came COVID19, the coronavirus outbreak spreading across the world from China. Official numbers for Iran (at the time of this writing) are 4,747 confirmed COVID19 cases and 124 deaths. Every sign, except the Iranian government, suggests these numbers are false. In fact, most experts believe Iran’s confirmed case count and the death toll from COVID19 are much higher.

Iranian lies about COVID19
“This disaster, in our opinion, is not such a big disaster, there have been and there are bigger disasters than this. Of course, I don’t want to downplay the issue, but let’s not exaggerate it much either. Something has happened, it will exist in the country for a time, which hopefully will be short, and then it will go away.” Supreme Leader of Iran Khamenei

One week ago, the Islamic Republic of Iran chided experts and pundits who asked if the country planned to quarantine cities where COVID19 was spreading in Iran. The Deputy Health Minister of Iran and the head of Iran’s Taskforce on COVID19 said the idea of quarantining cities belonged to the stone-age. The next day he was diagnosed with the virus.

Iranian lies about COVID19

In fact, no country has seen more high-profile infections than Iran. On March 1, a member of the Supreme Leader’s Advisory Council died after being diagnosed with the virus. One of Iran’s Vice Presidents confirmed they had the virus. Seven Iranian officials including a leading cleric were confirmed to have the virus at the end of February. On March 3, the New York Times reported three dozen members of Iran’s parliament and leaders of government were now included among the confirmed cases of COVID19 in Iran.

Several lawmakers in Iran have decried that the government is deliberately trying to hide the COVID19 death count from the public by listing “other causes” on the death certificates.

Iranian lies about COVID19

Near the end of February Iran reported 34 COVID19 deaths but the BBC reported that their own sources within the country said the death toll was already at 210, more than 6 times what the government was reporting. To combat these reports Iran began arresting individuals the government accused of spreading these lies. A nurse in Iran secretly shared a letter that was received from Iran’s security service which warned that sharing information about infected patients constitutes a “threat to national security” and “public fear mongering.” Such offenses “will be swiftly dealt with.

On March 4, the Washington Post reported that data obtained from a group of hospitals in Tehran suggested the outbreak was much larger than what the government was reporting at that time. About a dozen hospitals reported more than 80 deaths over the last six days in Tehran alone. Their reports represented only a small fraction of what was occurring in Tehran. The Washington Post report continued: Based on the figures from Tehran, Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious-disease epidemiologist, estimated that the current outbreak in Iran has reached up to 28,000 cases. On March 2, Iran reported a total of 66 deaths for the entire country.

The focus of Iran’s outbreak is in the cities of Qom and Tehran. Qom is the spiritual headquarters of the country where many of the nation’s leading clerics are located. Tehran is the political capital. There are a constant exchange and travel between the two cities among the theocratic nation’s leaders. Each of the Iranian leaders who tested positive for the virus so far was part of cabinet-level and leadership meetings among the country’s leaders in the last two weeks.

Iran has been the source for multiple cases of the virus spreading to other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, and Pakistan.

Two weeks ago, leaders of the country scoffed at the COVID19 virus. Today schools across the countries are closed until April. Travel between major cities is suspended. Iranians have been encouraged to not pass along paper currency in their financial transactions in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. Iran’s health minister announced the country would send 300,000 soldiers door to door to screen residents and disinfect their homes. The medical establishment in Iran immediately responded that such an action would likely spread the virus faster rather than contain it.

It’s been a rough year for Iran in 2020 and it is only getting started.