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'Official Statistics Engineered, Not Reliable', Iran Coronavirus Taskforce Member Says

Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi inspecting an underground (Metro) station in Tehran. August 4, 2020.

A member of Iran's Coronavirus Combat Taskforce has accused the government of engineering coronavirus statistics for "security and political reasons" and hiding the real number of cases and deaths.

On Sunday Jahan-e San'at newspaper quoted Mohammad-Reza Mahboubfar, epidemiologist, as saying that the real number of cases may be twenty times higher than Health Ministry figures.

On Monday, authorities banned the newspaper in a move long not practiced by the Islamic Republic. The chief editor of Jahane-e San'at, Mohammad Reza Saadi said the publication of the interview about the coronavirus numbers was the reason his publication was banned.

According to the latest statistics released by the Health Ministry on Monday, the total number of cases in the country and deaths in the country stand at 328,844 and 18,616 respectively.

The numbers announced by the Health Ministry have been contested by many including lawmakers and members of city councils. On March 31, based on figures released by local officials and media reports, an exclusive report by Radio Farda put the number of those who had been hospitalized with coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms in Iran at over 70,000 people and the death toll at more than 4,700 when the official figures stood at 44,606 and 2,898 respectively.

In a live Instagram program on Sunday, the Head of Iran's Pasteur Institute Ehsan Mostafavi said results of random serological tests since April indicate that the virus has so far infected between 20 to 25 percent of all Iranians. According to Mostafavi 40 to 50 percent of those infected may not experience any symptoms.

The Health Ministry has always declared that its numbers are not accurate and claimed that its statistics may be lower because they are based on solely on test results.

He also criticized President Hassan Rouhani for insisting that the traditional religious gatherings in the Islamic month of Muharram (starting on August 20) should not be cancelled and accused him of ignoring the advice of health experts. He warned about a third wave in autumn with daily new cases rising even to four figures.

Another member of the taskforce, Dr. Minoo Mohraz, yesterday also warned about a third wave and said that the protocols announced by the Health Ministry were not likely to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the upcoming ceremonies.

The Health Ministry on Sunday announced a series of protocols for the ceremonies this year. The protocols ban processions and only allow the ceremonies to be held for a maximum of two hours in open spaces where a safe two-meter distance can be kept between participants. Wearing masks will be compulsory during the ceremonies.