A directive by Iran’s health authorities asking families to coordinate Covid-19 burials with the military authorities has led to questions and controversy.
A letter by a health official leaked to social media April 8, showed that for obtaining death certificates “for Covid-19 victims or people suspected of having died because of coronavirus” families must contact the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) in addition to the health ministry.
The revelation led to criticism and controversy on social media, as to why the military should intervene in such public health issues.
Alireza Vahabzadeh, an advisor to the minister of health April 10 has told Fars news agency, close to the IRGC, that burials must be handled by the paramilitary Basij and that is why the Revolutionary Guard must be notified and issue the death certificate.
One reason for the Basij to conduct burials is apparently to make sure families do not break social-distancing norms and gather in large numbers around the body in cemeteries. Videos published on social media show a few members of the Basij dump bodies of coronavirus victims into a four-meter deep graves to prevent any danger of the virus spreading.
However, the IRGC issuing death certificates has no precedence or legality and it can mean they can register the cause of death as anything other than Covid-19. Reports have emerged in the past few weeks in Iran that death certificates for many epidemic victims indicate “respiratory complications”, instead of COVID-19 as cause of death.
Iran official statistics both about infections and deaths has been very linear since the outbreak began, leading many to question the figures. So far Iran has announced over 4,000 deaths and 66,000 cases, but an estimate by Radio Farda puts the number of infections closer to 100,000 and deaths near 7,000. Other sources have issued much higher figures.