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Iran's Covid-19 Cases May Be As High As 600,000: Parliament's Research Arm

Morgue in Tehran where coronavirus victims' bodies are washed before burial. FILE PHOTO
Morgue in Tehran where coronavirus victims' bodies are washed before burial. FILE PHOTO

An advisory report by the research arm of the Iranian parliament on Tuesday has estimated that the real number of coronavirus cases in the country may be up to 10 times higher than the cases identified by the Health Ministry while the real number of deaths may be nearly 8,700.

Iran's officially reported coronavirus cases reached 76,389 on Wednesday and the death toll rose to 4,777. Radio Farda's ongoing tracking of the death toll in Iran has revealed that the real numbers are much higher. According to our findings a total of 141,736 were infected and 9,156 died of COVID-19 as of April 10. The data has been collected from local and national media reporting the figures provided by hospital officials across the country.

The Iranian Health Ministry, however, bases its data on positive RT-PCR tests, the accuracy of which according to the parliament's Research Center is reliable only in 60 to 70 percent of cases.

According to the parliamentary think-tank's, Iran is implementing a containment strategy instead of mitigation or suppression, applied in other countries. Containment requires extensive testing, identification of cases, reducing the chances of contamination by those who are infected, and isolating all carriers of the virus.

However, the report points out that extensive testing has not been possible and the Iranian health system has replaced it with a nationwide self-reporting screening plan. The Health Ministry says as of March 30, about 62 million Iranians responded to its online questionnaire. The results helped identify 17,000 who were referred to hospitals for follow-up. It is not clear how many of these were actually tested for coronavirus, the report says.

The highest daily death toll (158) since the official announcement of two deaths in Qom on February 19 was registered on April 4 but the figure has been going down since then. For the first time since March 15 the number of daily deaths reported by the Health Ministry have dropped to under one hundred in the past two day with 98 deaths reported on Tuesday and 94 on Wednesday.

Pointing out that the epidemic is ongoing the parliamentary think-tank's report advises more testing, enforcing a "higher level of social distancing", and considering the suppression strategy more seriously despite its economic consequences in order to bring the epidemic under control.

The report has also warned about a wider gap among social classes and putting lower-income families at greater risk of financial difficulties. The latest report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that the Iranian economy will shrink by about 6% in 2020 and the inflation rate may rise to more than 33%.

The report evaluates the Iranian health system's initial response to the outbreak as "weak" but says the level of response is currently "acceptable".

According to the report the success of social distancing strategy is less than certain if isolation rate is less than 70% but if 80 to 90% of the population abide by social distancing along with limitations on international travels the epidemic may be brought under control within 13-14 weeks.

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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.