Iran's President Hassan Rouhani says a "counter-revolutionary conspiracy" has been hatched to "suspend work and economic activity" amid the coronavirus epidemic in Iran and it should be countered by "normalizing production."
He made the statement on Saturday March 21 at a meeting of the Coronavirus Control Task Force which is the body that decided to shut down schools and limit social activity in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
Ironically, the state TV footage showed that Rouhani was the only official at the meeting who was not wearing a mask and did not cover his mouth while coughing.
Meanwhile, contradicting himself, Rouhani warned the people to avoid gatherings and travelling around or going to shopping centers.
This is not the first time Rouhani speaks contrary to the Task Force and the Health Ministry's decisions. During the past weeks while the task force was begging the people not to travel to other cities, he opened a new highway encouraging the people to travel and once insisted that things were going to be normal within a few days.
But the president's allegation today about a mysterious counter-revolutionary plot indicates that not imposing quarantines early on to limit the spread of the virus was driven by economic considerations.
While government officials have said that Iran must still fight the COVID-19 outbreak for weeks before the worst of the contagion is over, Rouhani said on Saturday "Everything will be normal by the end of the Iranian New Year Holidays on April 1."
It is still not clear if Rouhani is accusing his own team of being counter-revolutionaries. The government and in particular the Planning and Budget Organization Chief Mohammad Baqer Nobakht and Vice-President Es'haq Jahanagiri said last week that the government is going to extend financial assistance to business that have closed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and in the less than a week Rouhani is expressing his opposition to closures.
He also claimed that the Ministry of Intelligence has put an "extensive document" about the "conspiracy" at his disposal.
It appears that Rouhani has been rationalizing to defend his decision against imposing quarantines to control the spread of the virus.
While Rouhani has repeatedly insisted that lockdowns are not needed, health ministry officials as well as local authorities have been insisting on the need for quarantine measures to stop the spread of the virus.
A deputy health minister warned recently that up to 70 percent of Iranians may be affected by the virus during the next two months.
Last week, while Rouhani said only he can decide about restrictive measures and travel bans, and forbade local governors to announce travel restrictions, local officials and the people overruled Rouhani's order and control measures are already in place in provinces such as Khuzestan and Hormozgan where locals do not allow entry to vehicles coming from other parts of the country.
In other provinces orders by local officials are slightly different. The governor general of Kerman province also announced on Friday that his officers will not allow the entry of passengers suspected of carrying the virus.
In mid-March, nearly all Iranian provincial officials announced that hotels and tourist sites will be closed and warned visitors not to travel if they do not want to be stranded.
The governor of Hormozgan province has said that traffic control officers have returned several thousand cars before their entry into the province during the past day.
Meanwhile, Rouhani claimed that thanks to his measures New Year travels were reduced by 50 to 60 percent.
In another development which indicates Rouhani's advisers feed him with disinformation, he said he has seen pictures that show heavily armed police officers protecting toilet paper shelves in a supermarket in a European country. He said the picture has been sent to him by a friend in "an important European country where people did not listen to the government's advice."
The doctored photos allegedly showing police protecting toilet papers in Europe.
Rouhani's friend may have been pulling his leg as the picture is so obviously photoshopped.
Rouhani’s allegation about “counter-revolutionaries” trying to bring Iran’s economy to a standstill remains a mystery.