Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Iran Virus Cases Top 40,000 as Prisoners Riot

Iran Virus Cases Top 40,000 as Prisoners Riot

Monday, 30 March, 2020 - 07:45
A member of the Iranian army walks past beds at a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients set up by the army at the international exhibition center in Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2020. (AP)
Asharq Al-Awsat

The number of declared coronavirus infections in Iran topped 40,000 Monday, as the government warned the outbreak could run for several more months and cost over 10,000 lives.

With the tally climbing, President Hassan Rouhani stood accused of failing to take prompt action by some of his political opponents.

The row came as a report by Iran's anti-coronavirus committee said the country may struggle with the outbreak until at least early summer.

Parviz Karami, who published the study on Instagram, said 11,000 people would die in case of "medium government intervention", including measures already taken by Iran.

Potential fatalities could drop to 7,700 with "maximum" intervention, such as banning movement inside cities and imposing quarantines, he said.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said Monday another 117 people had died from the virus over the past 24 hours and 3,186 new cases had been confirmed, raising the total to more than 41,000.

The death toll had reached 2,757.

According to Jahanpour, 13,911 of those hospitalized have recovered, while 3,511 are in critical condition.

Iran is one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic. It has been scrambling to contain COVID-19's spread since it reported its first cases on February 19.

After weeks of refraining from imposing a lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided last Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.

There is no official lockdown in Iran's cities although the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay at home to contain the spread of the virus.

Rouhani's political opponents argued Monday that it was all too little, too late.

'Political war'

"Coronavirus could have been more quickly contained" if measures such as "social distancing and limitations had been considered sooner", judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said, quoted by ISNA news agency.

Raisi, an ultra-conservative who ran against Rouhani in the 2017 presidential election, said that "time is of the essence".

The Iranian people had started "cooperating" only after authorities appeared to take the threat seriously, the official said.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a veteran conservative who also stood against Rouhani, charged the administration has mismanaged the crisis.

He accused the authorities of "ignoring reality" and "unjustified optimism".

Rouhani had "worsened the crisis, then asked for help and put the blame on others", Ghalibaf tweeted.

The criticism came as Rouhani called on opponents to assist the government's efforts.

"This is not a time for gathering followers. This is not a time for political war," the president said.

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei on Monday defended the measures adopted by the administration at a time that the country was under crippling US sanctions.

Washington withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018, targeting the crucial oil and banking sectors, among others.

The administration had taken the necessary steps "once notified" of the COVID-19 outbreak, Rabiei told a news conference.

Its approach had been to try to ensure "that both physical distance be kept and people's everyday lives not be disturbed", he said.

"These two make sense together in an economy under sanctions."

According to Rabiei, the administration has endorsed a $6-billion rescue package to fend off the damage from the outbreak.

It included low-interest loans to businesses to prevent a spike in unemployment and cash handouts to impoverished Iranians.

Some of Iran's top hospitals are experimenting with stem cells to "balance immune system response" in infected patients and find a treatment, according to ISNA.

Iran also said Monday it has started mass production of "highly accurate" coronavirus testing kits that could produce results within 3 hours.

Prison riot

Prisoners in southern Iran broke cameras and caused other damage during a riot, state media reported Monday, the latest in a series of violent prison disturbances in the country.

Iran had temporarily released around 100,000 prisoners as part of measures taken to contain the pandemic, leaving an estimated 50,000 people behind bars, including violent offenders and so-called “security cases,” often dual nationals and others with Western ties.

Families of detainees and Western nations say Iran is holding those prisoners for political reasons or to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations.

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Gov. Enayatollah Rahimi of the southern Fars province as saying a riot broke out at Adel Abad Prison, the main lockup in the city of Shiraz. Rahimi said prisoners broke cameras and caused other damage in two sections housing violent criminals. No one was wounded and no one escaped.

IRNA reported Friday that 70 inmates had escaped Saqqez Prison in Iran’s western Kurdistan province. Prisoners beat guards during the chaos, a local prosecutor said. Several inmates later returned on their own to the prison.

Since the beginning of the year, riots have broken out in prisons in Aligudarz, Hamedan and Tabriz as well, with some prisoners escaping, IRNA reported.

Editor Picks