Iranians are scared and angry. Their government has been lying to them and their media was instructed not to report on the coronavirus outbreak as it rapidly spread from the religious city of Qom to other cities. On Saturday, Tehran was awash with rumors and riots occurred in the city of Talesh on the Caspian sea due to a quarantine.
“The situation inside the hospital is very scary and terrifying,” one man tweeted. “Even the hospital medical staff, some of whom are infected with the coronavirus, are terrified." In Isfahan medical students protested at the local University of Medical Sciences due to lack of protective gear. Iranians are well educated and they know the risks as their government tried over seventy hours to stop the spread of information about the crises.
By Saturday evening at least six people were dead but official figures put the number of infections only in the twenties. In fact rumors were spreading that the numbers could be in the hundreds or a thousand cases. In Iraq the authorities moved to shut the border and stop Iranian pilgrims from coming from Qom. In addition Iran sought to clamp down on travel. A Lebanese woman returning from Qom tested positive in Lebanon. Lebanon’s Health Minister, who is linked to the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, said everything was in order.
In Turkey the authorities, acting on information they received from Iran that was not available for the media, sought to monitor and interdict Iranians who might have the virus. Kuwait also expressed concern over Iranian arrivals and travel to Iran. In Iraq’s Maysan the governor decided to try to prevent Iranians from arriving. Already the virus was in Tehran, Rasht and other cities. Governments in the region, evidently aware of the crises more than Iran’s people were aware, began to seek to stop Shi’ite pilgrims from going to Iran.
Yet Iranians were urged by their government to congregate in confined spaces on Friday to vote. The regime wanted the turnout to grow beyond the 11 million who were estimated to have voted. The government, seeking to censor information on the spread of the virus, likely contributed to misinformation by pushing the polls to stay open later with a national health emergency looming. Yet Fars News, Tasnim and other news outlets did not warn of the crises. The only information came later on Saturday when reports said that there was price gouging for protective medical masks. Anadolu, a Turkish news agency, photographed dozens of people in Iran already wearing the masks. The government sought to put price controls on masks so people could afford them.
In the afternoon on Saturday officials moved to close all schools on Sunday and Monday. A mayor, named Mortaza Rahmanzeda of a district in Tehran was taken to hospital. Rumors claimed he was badly ill from the virus. Other officials appeared to be concerned they might be sick. Mohsen Rafsanjani, head of the city council of Tehran, said he was visiting a hospital. By the evening Iran’s media announced universities would close. But media still wasn’t allowed to report the reason. Educational facilities, according to Fars News, will be closed in Tehran, Alborz, Qazvin, Markzai, Qom, Hamedan, Isfahan, Gilan and Mazandaran provinces. There are thirty provinces in Iran, but there are the most central. It appears the virus may not have spread to outlying areas, such as the Kurdistan region. But the Kurdistan region of Iraq is taking no chances, quarantining people in Soran and considering to close the border. In Pakistan also some voices are calling for border closures. In Iran some expressed anger at Mahan Air and other airlines for continuing to fly pilgrims.
The Minister of Science spoke out Saturday about the coronavirus precautions. He urged people at University to visit health center “as soon as they feel symptoms of a cold, flue or the like. Take the necessary measures to treat them at the centers. In Alborz a university head encouraged most people not to wear a mask. He said that news about the virus must come only from the Ministry of Health and that people should avoid rumors. There are no cases in the province, he claimed, according to ISNA in Iran.
The lack of response by authorities and rumors have caused a tense situation in Iran. It also appears to be contributing to the spread of the virus to other countries. Iraq’s Muqtada al-Sadr flew home to Iraq as the virus spread in Qom. Oddly he did not have to be quarantined. Iran is already on edge because of protests last year where the authorities killed 1,500 demonstrators. But the authorities continue to provide little information on the extent of the outbreak. A head of a unit at Qom University said he had received no statistics. Women at a university in Tehran protested the lack of information. In Talesh people continued to protest mysterious closures and quarantines. Tear gas was used outside at least one hospital. In Rasht fires were lit and the authorities cracked down on protests. “They resort to oppression instead of a solution to the coronavirus crises,” wrote locals.
News programs in the evening in Iran gave advise on wearing masks and cleaning one’s hands. But they didn’t explain how to best prevent the spread of the virus. They gave only “comfort” one woman tweeted, complaining of the lack of information.
Iran covered up the downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January and the killing of protests in November. The regime sees no incentive to be honest with its people or the world, since it can act with impunity regardless of the international community and international standards, and still be greeted with a welcome in Europe and most countries. In this respect the response to the virus outbreak is the usual opaque and unclear answers from Tehran as people live in fear and don’t know what to do as schools are closed. Neighboring countries are on edge as well.