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How Iran Reduces Official Toll Of Coronavirus Deaths

A bus driver wearing a protective mask to prevent contracting coronavirus, as he drives the bus in Tehran, Iran February 25, 2020.
A bus driver wearing a protective mask to prevent contracting coronavirus, as he drives the bus in Tehran, Iran February 25, 2020.

Radio Farda has learned from a source very closely involved with Iran's Coronavirus Combat Taskforce that the official death toll only covers deaths that have been confirmed by coroners, not the tally reported by hospitals across the country. The death toll is much higher, "at least twice as high, maybe even more" according to the source.

"The discrepancy between the official figures that are announced by the Health Ministry and the real figures lies in the fact that the Health Ministry announces the death toll based on death certificates issued by coroners," the source who is a health expert closely involved with the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce told Radio Farda on Friday.

The expert who cannot be named for his safety explained that death certificates are issued by coroners and the Health Ministry can only announce the tally from death certificates they issue, not its own data.

"Hospitals and doctors indicate the cause of death on their reports but a coroner appointed by the Judiciary has to examine every single body. The cause of death which appears on the official death certificate reflects his view, not what the hospital has announced," he said and added that coroners on many cases put "respiratory failure, pneumonia, or flu" on death certificates to keep the real coronavirus death toll down.

According to this expert and other informed sources, coroners have only had time to examine some of the bodies in morgues. "As the number of coronavirus deaths grew, bodies started to pile up in morgues waiting to be examined, that's why the official figures do not reflect the reality of the situation which is really grave," the source told Radio Farda.

ٰVideo of the mortuary of a cemetery in Qom which shows tens of bodies lined up on the floor.

On Friday the Spokesman of Iran's Health Ministry said the death toll of coronavirus (COVID-19) has now gone up to 124 but a look at the sheer number of high-profile individuals whose death from coronavirus has been confirmed makes the official death toll very questionable to any observer.

Among the dead are several government officials, lawmakers, clerics, Revolutionary Guard members and medical staff as well as artists and a female athlete. Many more public figures have reported they have tested positive.

The death toll among ordinary people must be several times more than the authorities have admitted if the deadly virus could spread so fast among high echelon officials who have the best access to medical care and hygiene.

All of Iran's 31 provinces have now reported coronavirus cases but the number of deaths in each province are not being announced. The announcement made by the Health Ministry on Thursday also excluded the number of deaths in Tehran, Qom and Gilan provinces, the three hotspots of the coronavirus epidemic in the country. The number of confirmed cases in these provinces on Thursday stood at 1043, 253 and 218 respectively.

The narrator of the video says more than 80 coronavirus victims have been buried in this section of the Behesht-e Masoumeh cemetery of Qom.

Bodies have also piled up in mortuaries. A video widely circulated on social media which has been taken on March 2, shows the inside of the mortuary of Behesht-e Masoumeh Cemetery in Qom. A lawmaker from Qom last week said he had "horrific figures from cemeteries" of his constituency. The religious city of Qom was the epicenter of the outbreak where the first two coronavirus deaths were reported on February 19.

In the video, tens of bodies in black body bags and wooden boxes are seen on the floor of several rooms. One of these boxes the narrator of the video says holds the body of a prominent cleric, Ayatollah Seyyed Hadi Khosroshahi and the name is clearly seen on the box.

According to the narrator Khosroshahi's body has been waiting to be prepared for burial for several days. Khosroshahi, a former Iranian envoy to the Vatican, was one of the first clerics who passed away from coronavirus, on February 27, which corresponds with what the video says.

The video and what the narrator says sounds even more credible because according to the Deputy Prosecutor of Qom he was arrested the day after sharing the video on social media. The Judiciary official said he had published the video "without permission" but did not deny the content.

Other videos on social media show bulldozers digging mass graves in cemeteries in several Iranian cities including Gilan Province where the spread of the epidemic has become a serious cause for serious concern. In Qom and bodies being buried in rows of newly dug grave by people in special protective suits.

The results of a research published by a group of University of Toronto scientists and doctors on February 24 estimated that based on Coronavirus cases traveling from Iran to other countries it was statistically possible that 18,000 people are infected in the county.

The research was based on the volume of travel from Iran to other countries and proven cases of infected people arriving in other countries, such as Lebanon and Canada to date. The latest number of people infected by the virus which Iran's Health Ministry announced on March 6 stood at 4747.

last update: 11 March
Deaths: 33

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.