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Up To 70 Percent Of Iranians Likely To Contract Coronavirus, Health Official Says

People, some wearing protective face masks, grocers stalls displaying produce at the Tajrish Bazaar in Tehran, March 12, 2020
People, some wearing protective face masks, grocers stalls displaying produce at the Tajrish Bazaar in Tehran, March 12, 2020

Iran’s ministry of health has announced that 12,729 people have tested positive for coronavirus as of Saturday March 14. Also, with 97 new deaths since yesterday, the epidemic's toll in Iran has reached 611.

More than one thousand Iranians have been infected during the past day, most of them in Tehran, Isfahan, Alborz and Gilan provinces.

In the meantime, Deputy Health Minister Reza Malekzadeh rejected the idea of biological warfare as the cause of the outbreak in an interview with the Iranian state TV. Iran’s hardliners have been alluding to “the possibility” of the United States using coronavirus against Iran.

Malekzadeh said the delay in announcing the start of the epidemic and failing to control flights between China and Iran have caused the massive outbreak in Iran.

Dr. Malekzadeh warned that up to 70 percent of Iranian are likely to be affected by the virus due to the delay and failure in disease prevention and control.

Some social media users have reminded Malekzadeh that Health Minister Namaki lied to the people on 29 January telling them there were no coronavirus cases while several patients were hospitalized at Tehran's Masih Daneshvari Hospital.

Some Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and IRGC Commander Hossein Salami have said that the outbreak could have been part of a biological attack against Iran, but they failed to explain why it started in China, and why over 130 countries including the United States are also affected.

Khamenei charged that "There is some evidence this may be a biological attack."

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to Khamenei's comment, saying that "As Khamenei knows, the best biological defense would’ve been to tell the Iranian people the truth about the Wuhan virus when it spread to Iran from China. Instead, he kept Mahan Air flights coming and going to the epicenter in China and jailed those who spoke out."

Pompeo was referring to an increasing number of arrests among journalists, social media activists and provincial health officials for disseminating information about Coronavirus fatalities.

Critics say the conspiracy theories Iranian officials usually resort to, aim to blame others for their inefficiency in dealing with ongoing crises and also mark a serious deficiency in their media literacy, which makes them unable to differentiate between the truth and fake news.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on March 12 appointed General Mohammad Baqeri, the chairman of Iran’s joint armed forces to head a new headquarters to deal with the epidemic. This raised expectations that the military might act quickly and decisively in sealing off some cities to prevent a worsening of the outbreak.

Saturday morning, while there was still no news of any measures on the part of the newly established military body, President Hassan Rouhani chaired the disease control task force via video teleconference (VTC).

At the meeting, Rouhani once again called on the people not to travel during the Iranian New Year holidays next week but did not announce any practical measures on the part of the government. However, Iranian media say incoming traffic to Tehran will be restricted, but they did not say how and when.

The news coming from other cities say the mayor of Sari, the capital of Mazandaran Province has contracted Coronavirus and the mayor of Mashhad, the Capital of Khorasan-e Razavi Province has said that the situation of the outbreak in the city is a cause for serious concern. Other reports from the city say that the holy shrine in Mashad has been closed to the public.

Meanwhile, a red alert and emergency situation has been declared in Kermanshah Province at the border with Iraq.