Deputy commander of the conventional Iranian army, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari says the army knew about a possible COVID-19 outbreak by January 19, more than a month before the Iranian government announced the first cases in the country.
"We checked the World Health Organization's website and alerted our forces," Sayyari said.
This comes while most Iranian officials including President Hassan Rouhani and his Health Minister have said they did not know about the outbreak before 22 February. There have been accusations that the virus arrived and began spreading in Iran weeks earlier.
Speaking on a live TV program Thursday evening April 16, Sayyari also said that 120 of the army's cadre and 40 draftees contracted coronavirus but only one third of them were hospitalized and most of the survived the infection.
He said only four army personnel died of COVID-19, but three of them had underlying heart problems and had undergone open heart surgery. Sayyari also said that the draftees had contracted the infection outside their garrisons. He insisted that "No draftee soldier has died."
Pointing out that the Islamic Republic's enemies have been saying the Iranian army units are infected with the virus, he insisted: "We have said before and we say gain now that army garrisons are the safest places in every town as they are being disinfected several times a day."
He promised that the Iranian army would showcase its capabilities to confront COVID-19 during the Army Day parade on Friday April 17.
Following a recent claim by IRGC commander that the elite force has invented a machine capable of detecting coronavirus from a distance of 100 meters, the army has also promised to put on display its own version of an anti-virus machine.
However, IRGC's show turned into a fiasco when the machine turned out to have been presented on several previous occasions as a device that detects bombs, gas oil and other things.
Rear Admiral Sayyari said on the state TV: "Certain devices have been invented that would be useful in the fight against COVID-19."
On the same program, on Thursday, Iran's state-run TV also showed Kiumars Heydari the commander of the Iranian army's ground forces while he was saying that the army has invented a machine that kills coronavirus in five minutes.
The competition between the army and the IRGC is partly motivated by financial ambitions. Anecdotal accounts on social media say the IRGC's prototype virus catcher was bought for $800,000 from an "inventor" in north-western Iran. Those behind the "innovation" may be thinking of the profit when the machine is mass produced.
By making such claims both the Revolutionary Guard and the regular army can demand more money from the government or from the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s financial empire.
President Rouhani's media adviser Hesamoddin Ashna criticized the state TV for showing the IRGC machine that was not verified by the Health Ministry and called the news report featuring IRGC commander introducing the machine an "advertisement."
Many other social media users have criticized the IRGC commander for falling for such a scam. Subsequently IRGC-linked news agencies such as Fars and Tasnim have pulled the video and news stories about the event, while they are widely shared on social media platforms.