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Coronavirus Rages On In Iran, As Revolutionary Guard Enters The Scene

IRGC personnel came into the streets to fight Coronavirus. The sign says "Corona suppression operation". March 1, 2020

Iran's revolutionary guards have officially entered the scene of confrontation with the fast spreading Coronavirus (COVD-19) on Sunday March 1, one day after the country's conventional army (Artesh) declared its readiness to join fight against the virus.

Using the guards usual security-oriented jargon, IRGC-linked Fars news agency reported on Sunday that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corp (IRGC) has set up a "headquarters" to "suppress" the deadly virus.

Within hours, the IRGC took to the streets of Tehran with vehicles similar to its anti-riot water cannon trucks. The IRGC used these vehicle to showcase its capability to confront chemical warfare during the eight-year war against Saddam Hussain's Iraq in the 1980s.

The IRGC said it is going to use its anti-chemical warfare skills in combating Coronavirus.

Semi-official news agency ISNA also reported that the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia will remain in the streets until the situation returns to normal. This could be indicative of the regime's fear of protests in the cities as the situation gets increasingly tense and serious.

The move, however, was welcomed as official acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation after weeks of denial and downplaying fatality figures. Political analysts see the move as an attempt by the IRGC to portray the Rouhani administration as incompetent. The IRGC behaved similarly during the floods that swept across Iran in April 2019.

Iranian agencies quoted the spokesman for Iran's Health Ministry saying that the number of Coronavirus patients has risen from 593 to 978 within the past day, with 54 of the victims pronounced dead.

Meanwhile, Eghtesad Online website reported that at least 725 Coronavirus patients have been hospitalized in 4 hospitals in Qom alone where the contagion started before spreading to the rest of the country.

Rasht in Gilan province and Tehran have the largest number of Coronavirus patients after Qom.

In the meantime, other than the four members of Iranian parliament who were tested positive for Coronavirus as of Saturday, two female MPs, Soheila Jelodarzadeh, and Massoumeh Aghapur Alishahi said on Sunday that they contracted the virus at the parliament. Both MPs have been quarantined, reports say.

Meanwhile, other reports from Iran say that Hossein Moradi, a young man who is in jail with a death sentence for taking part in the November 2019 nationwide protests, has been tested positive for the virus and taken to an unknown place on Sunday.

Four of Moradi's cellmates in the notorious Fashafouyeh Prison south of Tehran have been subsequently quarantined to avoid infecting other inmates. However, there is widespread concern among activists in Iran about the safety of prisoners in this and other Iranian prisons.

Wardens have been authorized to grant furlough to prisoners sentenced to up to five years in jail, but political prisoners are categorically handed longer jail sentences, so they cannot benefit from the order issued by Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raeesi.

Meanwhile, people and the media complain about the shortage of masks and hygienic hand gels all over Iran. Some complain that these and other items are available at a very high price at the black market.

Saturday night, Iran's state TV IRIB showed officers breaking into the warehouse of Digikala an online shop in Tehran. The report said officers have found millions of masks there, but the shop's management later said that the warehouse had just over 30,000 masks that have already been sold and were ready to be dispatched to online customers.

Sunday morning, Health Minister Saeed Namaki wrote a letter to President Hassan Rouhani complaining that millions of masks that were produced to be delivered to the Health Ministry found their way to the black market.

Namaki charged that profiteers got hold of millions of masks and the ministry had to buy one million masks at the black-market rate to serve the patients.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry banned the export of hygienic masks and hand gels. A few weeks ago, Namaki himself announced that Iran has sent two million masks to China.

Sharq newspaper in Tehran reported that many people have chosen to stay indoors to avoid exposure to the virus. According to Sharq's report, there has been a 70 percent decline in the number of passengers travelling with Tehran's subway.

Videos broadcast from Rasht in northern Iran on some foreign based satellite TV channels depicted a ghost town with few people on the roads. However, this video shows cheerful people in the city's busy marketplace, something hard to get away with in normal times. "Some dance to forget," said an old song.