Lauren Meier, Washington Times, 8 April 2020
An international Iranian dissident group says the country’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak is much higher than the government has reported — more than three times the current estimate.
Iran has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, with government officials reporting nearly 65,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 4,000 deaths.
But the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) claimed Wednesday that the government has not been honest about the death toll, and say the toll is more than 20,000 to date with infections more than 500,000 among its 83 million people.
The group, which says it has a wide network of informants inside Iran, asserted during a virtual briefing Wednesday that at least 2,050 people have died from the virus in Qom alone, which is considered to be the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in Iran.
Ali Safavi, a member of the group’s foreign affairs committee, said during the briefing that the organization has “reliable evidence that the regime knew about this virus as early as late January, most likely earlier, but did not inform the public or the world about it.”
In a new report released Wednesday, the NCRI claims that “Tehran still refuses to provide accurate information about the number of fatalities.”
“The nearly month-long criminal cover-up was definitely a key factor in the rapid outbreak in Iran, a crime against humanity for which the regime’s leaders must be brought to justice,” the group said.
Iranian officials have repeatedly pointed to crippling U.S. sanctions as the cause for the vast spread of the virus, but the NCRI pushed back on the claims and said it has found that the “resources provided to Iran to counter the virus are not going to the Iranian people; instead they enter the black market, which in turn creates shortages and causes more deaths.”
The report’s release comes just days after a member of Iran’s National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce told state news agency IRNA, “Many people with milder symptoms have not been detected.”
About 70 million Iranians have reportedly been tested for the virus, the country’s health minister, Saeed Namaki, told state television Tuesday. He called on people to “stay home and follow the guidelines.”