The Chairman of the Medical Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran (MCIRI) and tens of high-profile doctors have in separate letters on March 10 called on President Hassan Rouhani to reassign the management of the coronavirus crisis to a more authoritative council composed of the heads of the three government powers, or take the responsibility himself.
The letter of MCIRI, a regulatory body for Iranian healthcare professionals headed by Dr. Mohammad-Reza Zafarqandi said the Health Ministry lacks the powers and authority required to enforce vital decisions in the management of the crisis such as travel bans, procuring financial resources including foreign currency and the deployment of the military "despite special authorization granted to it".
The Coronavirus Combat Taskforce is headed by the Minister of Health Saeed Namaki. Rumors about his resignation due to interference by other authorities and the restrictions imposed on him have been abundant since late February although denied by the officials of the ministry.
The Health Minister himself has on several occasions publicly implied that the Ministry's authority is being undermined by others, presumably the clerics and their supporters in the Revolutionary Guard who since the beginning of the epidemic have strongly opposed locking down cities such as Qom, the religious capital of Iran where hardliner clerics enjoy broad powers.
Namaki has also criticized other government agencies such as the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade for "deceitfully" promising production of large quantities of protective masks to prevent the spread of the virus.
Shrines in Qom, Mashhad and other places have refused to close their gates to help contain the spread of the disease despite criticism of the public and healthcare professionals. Although Friday prayers have been cancelled in all major cities, some clerics still encourage people to participate in group prayers or go to shrines and mosques.
Coronavirus which was first spotted in Qom has claimed hundreds of lives in Iran so far. Other hotspots of the epidemic such as Gilan province appear to have been contaminated by travelers from Qom.
The Guard has also put up resistance to government decisions. Despite the ban on flights to China the Guard-affiliated Mahan Air has continued its flights to Chinese cities. The Commander of the Guards, Brigadier General Hossein Salami on Sunday claimed that the coronavirus outbreak in Iran may be due to a "bio-terror attack" by the United States against China and Iran.