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EXCLUSIVE: People Tell Radio Farda Government Hiding True COVID Numbers

Officials inaugurating a convalesence center for COVID patients in Karaj, Iran. Undated.
Officials inaugurating a convalesence center for COVID patients in Karaj, Iran. Undated.

In exclusive video-taped interviews sent to Radio Farda by citizen-journalists from Iran, residents of Karaj -- the capital city of Alborz Province -- say the situation with COVID pandemic is more critical now and allege that the government is hiding the true numbers.

Alborz Province is currently experiencing a second and more intense wave of the pandemic. Even according to the authorities – who many accuse of downplaying the crisis – so far the province of 2.7 million has had 13,000 cases and around 750 deaths since the outbreak in February. The Health Ministry has now marked the province as a "red zone.

"Most Alborz hospitals are now overwhelmed with critical patients and many are treated by doctors at their own homes," the government news agency IRNA reported on Monday.

A medical equipment supplier from Karaj in one of the videos says Bahonar, Kosar and Sarallah hospitals for COVID patients are completely full. Another man from Karaj says a friend of his who caught the virus said his wife had to be sent home as the hospital could not accommodate her although there were beds lined up even in the corridors.

A man speaking at one of the city's cemeteries claims that the government is hiding the true numbers."There are more deaths [now] but in many cases the cause is registered as heart or brain attack or other things. They won't tell the truth," he says.

A young key-cutter points out that people should act more responsibly and protect themselves and others from the virus but many don't care. "I think those who died of COVID-19 wouldn't be happy to know [their families] were holding funerals for them" he says and adds: "[Funerals and weddings] are really dangerous. … Weddings can be held later when the situation is better". "They should listen to health advice until a vaccine is made. They should try to stay home as much as they can," he says.

Health authorities have repeatedly warned about the spread of the virus in funerals and weddings and the media have reported several cases of mass infection after attending such ceremonies.

Other residents of Karaj have spoken about the financial impact of the pandemic on their lives and the costs of treating COVID victims at home as hospital beds can only be given to those whose illness is critical.

"Things are expensive and there are no jobs. There's this illness and the extra costs of masks and sanitizers on top of it," an old man interviewed on the street points out while the medical supplier says people have to rent ventilators for patients not admitted to hospitals and points out that the cost is too high for ordinary families.

"Someone I know had to pay 60 million rials (about $240 dollars) to rent a ventilator for his mother. How can someone living on a pension afford that?" he asks.

According to the government news agency (IRNA), during the first wave of the pandemic people knew little about the symptoms and sometimes visited hospital unnecessarily. At the time the number of patients that visited hospitals was about 1,000 a day and on some days as many as 16 deaths were reported in Alborz.

The situation improved in mid-May with daily new cases in the province even dropping to 20 and there were days with no fatalities reported at all, the IRNA report said. Later, the numbers started quickly rising after the lifting of the partial restrictions and opening of businesses. But now there are more than 850 hospital visits a day although – only by people who are seriously ill -- and the death toll has risen again to 16.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.