Iran saw a spike of 43 new deaths during the past day as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The rising toll brings the total number of fatalities to 237, Iranian Health Ministry Spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said on Monday March 9.
According to Jahanpur the 237 deaths occurred among a total number of 7,161 people who have been diagnosed with the virus. The new figure shows 595 new cases were identified from Sunday morning to Monday.
Although Iran announces new infection and death numbers daily, many observers inside and outside the country have questioned the validity of official figures for technical and political reasons.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials are still refusing to disclose the death toll in Tehran, Qom and Gilan provinces, the worst affected parts of the country. A local official in Gilan said on Sunday that at least 200 have died in the province.
Some of the foreign-based Persian-speaking media outlets have put the death toll over 500 last week and have been increasing the number gradually, citing "informed sources in Iran," without any clear indication about the status or position of their sources.
Inside Iran, Mostafa Faghihi, who maintains the pro-Rouhani Entekhab news website, topped the highest figures released by foreign-based media and announced on his Telegram channel that the death toll is over 2,000, while calling on health minister Saeed Namaki to disclose the real figures.
The murky media landscape as well as the Iranian government's secretive behavior make it almost impossible to verify any one of the figures, including those released by Iran's health ministry.
Furthermore, observations by journalists inside and outside Iran indicate that figures released by the Health Ministry in Tehran are different from those given away by local officials in the provinces.
In a bid to come up with a more realistic figure, Radio Farda journalist Ehsan Mehrabi in an article summed up figures given away by various provincial officials in Iran and came up with a figure between 477 and 519 coronavirus deaths, as of Monday morning March 9.
Varying statements by officials, sometimes even figures released by the same official during the same news conference, make matters more ambiguous and raise questions rather than answering any.
Official news agency IRNA quoted Jahanpur as having said on Monday that 2,394 patients have been "cured." However, it is not clear that the figure is part of the total number of cases announced on the same day or it is a separate figure.
At the same news conference Jahanpur also talked about a good number of those "cured" having been infected once again.
Jahanpur named Tehran (with 1,945 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection), Qom (712 cases), Mazandaran (633 cases) , Isfahan (601 cases) and Gilan 524 (cases) as the provinces worst hit by the COVID-19 virus.
The provinces of Bushehr (with 11 cases of COVID-19 infection) and Kohkiloyeh and Boyer Ahmad (with 9 cases) are the least affected Iranian provinces.
In another development, Iran's communication Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, wrote in a tweet that a research based on transportation and payments data has revealed that hospitals, gas stations and supermarkets are the most likely places where people can pick up the virus.
Meanwhile, coronavirus deaths among Iranian political elites are more likely to be reflected in the media. Reports on Monday revealed the death of reformist political activist and former member of parliament Mohammad Reza Rahchamani and Farzad Tazari, a high-ranking IRGC intelligence officer.
Other reports indicate that Iran's crisis management chief Esmail Najjar has contracted the virus.
Following the concerns expressed about the safety of prisoners in Iran's overcrowded jails, reports on Monday say some 70,000 prisoners have been given furlough. This of course excludes most political prisoners who are considered “security threats” and have long prison terms.