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Elections, ties with China shaped Iran's coronavirus response


Iranian authorities ignored warnings by doctors in late December and January of an increasing number of patients with high fevers and lung infections in the historic city of Qom, which turned out to be the epicentre of Iran’s coronavirus outbreak, said two health ministry officials, a former ministry official and three doctors.

And, when the authorities did become aware of domestic cases of the flu-like virus in early January, they didn’t announce the news until weeks later, out of concern that releasing detailed information would unsettle the public ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for February 21, according to a senior official with direct knowledge of the matter. “The last thing we needed was a pandemic. The mood was already down,” said the senior official. Added to that was another concern, said the senior official and one of the health ministry officials: The virus had originated in China, and Iran did not want to risk disrupting its vital trade and diplomatic ties with Beijing, one of its most important allies. On Feb. 19, the Iranian government publicly announced its first two cases of – and deaths from - the new coronavirus, which can lead to breathing difficulties and pneumonia. Iran has now reported more than 47,500 cases of coronavirus and more than 3,000 deaths, making it the worst hit country in the Middle East. More than 900,000 infections have been reported globally, according to a Reuters tally.

2 April 2020


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