Fingers Point to Iran Amid Mideast Outbreak of Coronavirus
Iran’s deputy health minister and at least one lawmaker have been diagnosed with the coronavirus amid accusations that the Islamic Republic has downplayed the extent of the outbreak in the country. While the official death toll from the virus stood at 16 on Tuesday, a legislator from Qom this week was rebuked for suggesting that more than four dozen individuals had died from COVID-19, which originated in December in China. The overwhelming majority of the 80,000 global infections and 2,600 deaths have occurred in the Asian country. New coronavirus cases in travelers linked to Iran – specifically those who visited Qom, where hundreds of people have now reportedly been quarantined – have been confirmed in Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Iraq. After apparently minimizing the severity of the issue, Iranian authorities ordered the nationwide cancelation of major public events and the closure of schools in numerous provinces. Citizens have been encouraged to remain in their homes. There is speculation that the regime suppressed news of the outbreak so as not to impact the February 21 legislative elections. Meanwhile, some are predicting that the coronavirus could have dire ramifications for the Iranian economy, which is already being squeezed by US economic sanctions imposed over the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear program.