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Rouhani's Remarks About Peak Of Outbreak Leads to Denials, Controversy

President Hassan Rouhani holding a teleconference with top aides as a coronavirus preventive measure, while many people are in the room. March 15, 2020

An alleged claim by President Hassan Rouhani that Iran is about to overcome the coronavirus outbreak has led to public criticism and denials.

His adviser Hesamoddin Ashna was quick to deny reports that Rouhani claimed Iran has left behind the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

Ashena insisted that these reports "utterly distorted" the president’s comment and added that Rouhani simply said the Health Ministry's report about the situation of the outbreak was promising.

Several media outlets in Iran and abroad quoted Rouhani as having said Monday morning March 16 that Iran has already left behind the worst of the outbreak.

Ashna wrote in a tweet on Monday: "This is an elaborate distortion. Iran has by no means left behind the peak of the outbreak. Rouhani has simply referred to the Health Ministry's report about various possible scenarios as to how much intervention was needed by the government before the outbreak reaches its peak, and then he described the ministry's report as promising."

Dozens of social media users have commented on Ashna's tweet and accused him of whitewashing Rouhani's mistake.

In the meantime, official news agency IRNA has also maintained that "Rouhani did not say we have left behind the peak of the outbreak. He simply talked about efforts to leave that stage behind."

Rouhani's exact words were: "I hope with regard to what was said at this meeting about the peak of the outbreak and leaving it behind, Dr. Namaki would explain the matter to the people when he thinks he needs to tell them about it. This was very promising to us, and God willing, we will leave this matter behind with everybody's hard work."

At the meeting, Health Minister Namaki had spoken about the possibility of a more widespread contagion particularly in Qom and Mashhad where the holy shrines' officials and hardline clerics prevented disease control measures. Namaki said: "the curve of the contagion in Mashhad will be alarmingly rise."

On Monday, following the closure of the holy shrine in Mashhad, which took place after several days of debates between health and security officials and top clerics, a group of people gathered in protest outside the shrine's main gate.

Talks about the outbreak reaching its peak is not unprecedented. Earlier, Iran's State TV Chief Ali Askari had said at a security meeting that the contagion will reach its peak only by the end of the first week of April, and that the campaign against the disease will continue at least for another two months.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, Rouhani announced a set of new measures, mainly in the area of traffic control, but did not say when these measures are going to be implemented.

In another development, Vice-President Mohammad Baqer Nobakht said in an interview on state TV Sunday night that the Rouhani administration is planning to help low-income citizens in the country by offering low-interest rate loans.

Both Rouhani and his vice-President were harshly criticized by Iranian media Monday morning. Publishing a picture of Rouhani's teleconference with disease control task force official on Sunday, Reformist newspaper Sharq, wrote sarcastically that Rouhani runs the affairs of the state by remote control.

Social media users posted pictures from behind the scene of the teleconference, showing a dozen aides sitting around the room and behind the TV screen Rouhani was watching, saying there was no point in holding a teleconference as a measure of protection from the virus, while there were a dozen people in the same room with Rouhani.

Meanwhile, another reformist paper, Aftab-e Yazd wrote about Nobakht's promises, that "Remaining silent is better than giving untimely promises."

Based on the latest figures released by the Iranian government around 14,000 Iranians have already contracted the virus while Deputy Health Minister Reza Malekzadeh has predicted that up to 70 percent of the population in Iran may affected by COVID-19.

last update: 11 March
Deaths: 33