One day after Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei handed over Coronavirus control and prevention to the armed forces, General Mohammad Baqeri, Chief of the joint staff of the Iranian armed forces says his troops are planning to make sure that the people will leave roads and supermarkets in 24 hours.
Baqeri was tasked on Thursday by Khamenei to set up a Health and Medical Treatment Headquarters and use military forces to combat the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Reporting Baqeri's first news conference about confronting the outbreak, the official news agency IRNA referred to the HQ as the Imam Reza Health and Medical Treatment Headquarters.
Imam Reza, the 8th Imam of the Shiites who is buried in Mashhahd in northeastern Iran, is known to have authored a book of medicine entitled Teb al-Reza (Reza's Medicine).
It was at the news conference on Friday March 13 that Baqeri revealed the plan about emptying urban and inter-city roads and supermarkets of untimely travelers and panicked shoppers.
However, it is still not known if this means imposing lockdowns or quarantines on affected cities. Many citizens during the past days had demanded quarantines as a virus control measure and Iranians of various political affiliation criticized President Hassan Rouhani for refusing to do so.
Rouhani and his Health Minister Saeed Namaki have repeatedly voiced their opposition to the idea of quarantines.
In his mandate for Baqeri, Khamenei made an allusion to biological warfare against Iran without elaborating on who he thought was responsible and why nearly the whole world is affected by the virus. He told Baqeri to treat the headquarters' function as a military exercise in the area of biological warfare.
However, Baqeri, known to be one of the few pragmatist officers among Khamenei's aides, did not mention biological warfare in his news conference. The staff officer is known as a technocrat and rarely makes blustering statements like other IRGC figures. Perhaps, Khamenei hopes that Baqeri, with better managerial skills, can bring some order to the government's chaotic response to the epidemic.
Baqeri said on Friday that because of shortage of medical staff, and as doctors, nurses and paramedics are tired after several weeks of uninterrupted hard work, the Basij militia members and other volunteers are going to take part in a one-week training course in order to help nurses at hospitals.
Meanwhile, he said the Imam Reza HQ is planning to establish 1,000 medical centers, some of them makeshift facilities, as well as preparation centers for those who will be sent to hospitals later as well as recuperation centers for patients discharged from hospitals.
The preparation facilities appear to be isolation centers for those who have to wait for medical treatment and recuperation centers are meant to make sure that patients will not mingle with population for a period of time.
He also said that the HQ will provide masks and other medical and hygienic equipment for patients and medical staff.
Baqeri added that the HQ is going to launch a website during the next week which will monitor all Iranians for virus control.
The general took part in the last meeting of the previous Disease Control and Prevention Task Force which operated under Rouhani and his health minister, but it is not known if the HQ is going to replace the task force.
In the meantime, the Iranian Health Ministry's Spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told reporters that during the past day the total number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in Iran has reached 11,364 which indicates around 1,300 people have tested positive during the past day.
Jahanpur added 303 of the new cases were in Tehran, 192 in Mazandaran, 110 in Isfahan and 110 in Khorasan-e Razavi. He also said that with 85 new deaths during the past 24 hours, the official Coronavirus death toll in Iran has reached 514 which includes.
Independent research, including an investigative report by Radio Farad put the fatalities at around 1,000 four days ago.