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Iran Still Hiding COVID Death Figures In Hotspots, 320 Arrested For 'Spreading Rumors'

Young men wearing masks for protection from coronavirus celebrating the birth anniversary of the 2nd Imam of Shiites in Tehran, Iran. May 8, 2020.

Iran's health officials say the coronavirus situation in the capital Tehran and Khuzestan Province is still alarming despite fewer deaths from COVID-19, while the police continue suppression of online activities that question official figures.

On Saturday the Commander of Police said his forces have identified and dealt with 1,300 websites and arrested 320 individuals for "spreading rumors" about the spread of coronavirus on social media.

Many believe that Iranian authorities hid the coronavirus outbreak for political reasons before finally admitting on February 19 that the virus had spread in Qom, Iran's religious capital, and had even killed two people.

The number of cases and the death toll published by Iran's Health Ministry have been questioned by the public as well as lawmakers and city councilors.

According to the latest figures released by the Health Ministry, since Friday 1,529 more cases of COVID-19 have been identified and 48 more patients have lost their lives in the country. Of these victims, the majority appear to be from Tehran Province, the city of Tehran and various cities in the southwestern oil-rich Khuzestan Province.

The Health Ministry only announces the total numbers for the country and refuses to disclose details for individual provinces or the city of Tehran. An advisory report by the research arm of the Iranian parliament on April 14 estimated that the real number of coronavirus cases in the country could be up to 10 times higher than the cases identified by the Health Ministry and the death toll nearly twice the official figure.

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.

The country's highest daily toll, 158 deaths in one single day, was registered on April 4 but the official daily death number has dropped significantly. Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, one of the first to catch the virus himself, on Saturday said the decline in cases and deaths is expected to continue in the next two months. However, officials in Khuzestan Province, the latest hotspot of the epidemic, say they expect a peak in the coming days.