Like many other Iranians Reza, the son of an eighty-three-year old victim from Qom, is critical of the government for not being honest about the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19). He thinks the authorities hid the outbreak because of the parliamentary elections on February 21.
The Supreme Leader of the country, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had made it clear in several speeches that he was expecting a huge turnout in the parliamentary elections of February 21.
The elections surely could not be spoiled with something such as an outbreak of coronavirus and officials who have to do everything to please him just hid the fact the deadly virus had arrived, many say, until they could no more.
The first two fatalities were announced two days before the elections within hours from the time the government officially admitted there was an outbreak in Qom.
Speaking to Radio Farda, Reza talked about their ordeal and the big family being ignored by health authorities despite being in close contact with the victim after his mother tested positive and passed away shortly after that.
Reza says he cannot understand why the city, a pilgrim's destination visited by thousands of people every day, has not been quarantined yet to contain the outbreak. Authorities say there is no need for secluding the city.
Some Iranian social media users blame the all-powerful religious leaders of Qom, a holy city with many seminaries and a famous shrine, for keeping the health officials from taking that step. "It will hurt the city's reputation," one Qom cleric did actually say a couple of days ago.
"On February 23 we found out that our mother was not well. We took her to a small healthcare facility near our home in Qom. We were told to take her to Kamkar hospital, one of the two hospitals designated for receiving patients suspected of coronavirus infection," Reza says.
"But at the hospital they told us they couldn't admit her as the hospital was full. We took her to another hospital, Forqani. They admitted and examined her and after three hours she was transferred to the fourth floor where they quarantined her. The next day we were told that she had gone into coma and despite their efforts had passed away," Reza says.
According to this Qom resident, their family of nine has a lot of close contact with relatives and friends. "I explained our situation to the hospital staff but they asked a few questions and told me to go home without testing me because I didn't cough," he says.
After their mother's death he found out she was going to be buried in a special section in the cemetary. "They didn't follow any procedures, they didn't wash the body. They told me to get into the grave to lower the body into it. I told them this had to be done by people protected by special bodysuits. They said it was not their responsibility," Reza says of the burial.
People suspect fatalities in Qom are much higher than announced. On Monday the ultra-conservative representative of Qom in Iran's parliament claimed that there had been about 50 coronavirus deaths in his constituency and criticized the authorities for hiding the real numbers. He demanded that the city be quarantined.
Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, on the same day, strongly refuted hiding the facts and said he would resign from his post if the number of fatalities was even one-fourth of what the MP had claimed. He also said secluding Qom or other cities was not the answer to the problem. Secluding is an outdated measure from the time of world wars, he said.
Some reporters pointed out that at his joint press conference with President Hassan Rouhani's spokesman, the Deputy Health Minister had repeatedly caughed and wiped his brow and face as if he felt hot and dehydrated and speculated about his health.
Today, February 25, Harirchi posted a video of himself on social media and announced that he has tested positive for the virus. He says he has quarantined himself in a safe location and promises to defeat the coronavirus within a few weeks".
According to the latest official announcement, fifteen Iranians have lost their lives to COVID-19 and 95 have tested positive. Many more are suspected of the infection. Most of the victims have been to Qom or been had contact with people coming from there.