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WHO Official Says Iran Death Toll Potentially Five Times Higher

Iranian Firefighters disinfect streets in an effort to stop the wild spread of coronavirus COVID-19 in Tehran, Iran, 13 March 2020.

Dr. Rick Brennan, Director of Emergency Operations in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new Emergencies Program has said that Iran's coronavirus (COVID-19) death toll is underreported due to testing being restricted to sever cases and the toll can be potentially five times higher.

"The number of cases reported could represent only about a fifth of the real numbers. The reason was that testing, as is the case even in some wealthy European countries, was restricted to severe cases," Dr. Brennan who returned from a mission to Iran last week told Reuters.

By gathering data from dispersed official comments by provincial authorities and local news agencies Radio Farda has been able to confirm that at least 1,500 have died of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran. However, according to the latest official government report on March 16 the death toll stood at 853.

Iranian government officials blame shortages of medical equipment and test kits on U.S. sanctions. The United States, however, says the sanctions will not impede humanitarian trade with Iran.

According to Brennan the weakest link in Iran's chain of coronavirus management is the data, and he predicted that with Iranian health system rapidly increasing its ability to test, the numbers will go up. "There's a great commitment and they are taking it seriously from the highest level of government," he said.

The complicated political system and multiplicity of decision-making bodies in Iran has resulted in many contradictory remarks and decisions by officials. Measures are being announced but not implemented due to resistance of influential political, religious and military centers of power. As a result of being under sanctions the government coffers have quickly depleted, painting a very grim picture if a long period of epidemic, which in turn will intensify the economic pressure on the country.

The Iranian public and the media are very critical of the country's response to the coronavirus epidemic. Many allege the government was aware of coronavirus cases much sooner than when it informed the public on February 19 and then failed to enforce a ban on flights to China on an airline controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.

They also criticize the government for failing to impose a quarantine on Qom, the epicenter of the outbreak, due to religious and political considerations which allowed the virus to spread throughout the country.