A little more than a month after the spread of Coronavirus in Qom, the virus continues to decimate Iran. Below is an update of events and how U.S. policy is affecting the crisis:
Status of the Outbreak
- As of March 24th, the official death toll in Iran stands at 2,077 and 27,017 infected, making it one of the world’s hotspots for the Coronavirus pandemic. Frontline healthworks have been hit particularly hard, with stories of heroism and perseverance common. Dr. Shirin Rouhani, who passed away due to Coronavirus, was pictured on Instagram treating patients with an IV drip until a few days before she passed away.
- As the virus continues to impact the country, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on March 24th that about half of all government employees would stay home and work remotely as part of measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. “Many government employees will continue to work from home but civil servants with sensitive jobs that are vital for the public will be allowed to work from the office,” said Rouhani. “The aim is to keep more people at home.”
- In a sharp turn in narrative from the beginning of the crisis, government health officials in Iran continued to sound the alarm bells in Iran. Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi warned Iranians that the pandemic could continue to spread until late May. “If we do not control it in the next 15 days we could be dealing with this for the next two months and can expect to see heavy losses,” Raisi said. “Unfortunately, some people have not taken seriously how dangerous the coronavirus is.”
- But despite dire warnings from Iranian government officials, the virus continues to rip through Iran’s upper echelon of government officials. On March 22nd, Brigadier Hossein Assadollahi, a former Revolutionary Guard division commander who held considerable sway in the IRGC, died of the virus. The following day, mourners held a street funeral procession for the former soldier, bringing thousands of people together despite government pleas to observe social distancing, outraging many in the country.
- In addition, factionalism between various parties in Iran still plagues the country’s response against the virus. On March 22nd, Iran rejected the aid of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) or Doctors Without Borders, who were hoping to set up and run an inflatable hospital.
- Under apparent pressure from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Tehran has reversed the acceptance of aid from the Paris-based NGO after seemingly giving them permission to set up the hospital. Conservative allies of the Supreme Leader used their affiliated newspapers to lambast Rouhani and his Ministry of health allowing MSF to arrive in the country in the first place. Despite not being blocked from providing assistance, MSF responded to a tweet from U.S. Sec. Pompeo about the incident stating that “US sanctions are also detrimental to the people of Iran.”
War of Words Over Sending Aid to Iran
- On March 23rd, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei refused U.S. assistance in a televised speech, citing U.S. sanctions and a conspiracy theory about the virus’ origins. Little information has been shared by the administration on the scope of relief on offer and how the U.S. would seek to deliver it, if accepted.
- Echoing bogus claims from Chinese officials alleging a U.S. role in the spread of the virus, Khamenei said “I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?” He went on to argue that the virus “is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians, which they have obtained through different means.” This statement appears to be intended to spin blame away from the government’s poor response.
- Morgan Ortagus, the State Department’s Spokeswoman said in a tweet on March 24 that “the ‘conspiracy theories about the Wuhan Virus’ by Khamenei are harmful, irresponsible, and 100 percent false.” Ortegus went on to say that if Khamenei were a true leader, he would return “the billions in his tax-free hedge fund” back to the Iranian people to deal with the virus outbreak.
- In an open letter sent to the American public on March 21st, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted that the United States should lift sanctions if it wants to help Iran to contain the coronavirus outbreak, adding that Iran had no intention of accepting Washington’s offer of humanitarian assistance. “I address your conscience and Godly souls and call upon you to make your Administration and Congress see that the path of sanctions and pressure has never been successful and will never be so in the future.” He went on to say that the “Iranian people…will repel this virus as well as the sanctions born of the callous policy of maximum pressure and will endure once again with resilience and pride.”
- Referring to sanctions, he argued that “the U.S. Government has implemented more than one hundred collective punishment measures against the Iranian people, specifically targeting Iran’s principal economic and financial sectors, and inflicting damages amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars to Iran’s economy and the Iranian people.”
Mounting International Pressure to Ease Sanctions
- The Iranian government’s universal rejection of U.S. aid comes after the administration has refused to suspend or ease sanctions as Iran continues its fight against the virus. On March 18th, Sec. Pompeo said in a statement that “the United States will continue to fully enforce our sanctions,” and has yet to reverse this policy. However, this position is earning pushback not just from Iran, but from U.S. partners.
- In a rebuke to U.S. policy, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s chief diplomat, said the EU would support Iran’s request for a loan from the IMF. “We are going to support this request because these countries are in a very difficult situation mainly due to the US sanctions that prevent them from having income by selling their oil,” Borrell said after talks with EU foreign ministers.
- The EU bloc is also preparing to send 20 million euros’ ($21.5 million) worth of humanitarian aid to Iran to help its coronavirus fight. The EU’s public push comes amidsts reports that the UK is privately pressing the U.S. to ease sanctions on the beleaguered country.
- Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan added to the chorus of countries calling on the US to lift its sanctions. In a tweet, he said “I want to appeal to President Trump on humanitarian grounds to lift the sanctions against Iran till the COVID-19 pandemic is over. The people of Iran are facing untold suffering as sanctions are crippling Iran’s efforts to fight COVID-19. Humanity must unite to fight this pandemic.”
- In addition, U.N. General-Secretary Antonio Guterres wrote in a letter on March 24th to G-20 nations encouraging the “waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support. This is the time for solidarity not exclusion.” Moreover, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on March 23rd also called for an easing of sanctions against countries such as Iran to allow their medical systems to fight the disease and limit its global spread.
How Can I Help?
- Relief International has launched a campaign to assist in the response to the Coronavirus in Iran, and will be providing face masks, sanitizer, test kits and treatment to affected individuals. Relief International has a license to conduct relief work in Iran and accepts contributions from Americans.
- Moms Against Poverty has rolled out a campaign to deliver relief to address the Coronavirus crisis, and will be providing masks, surgical gloves, disinfectant wipes, alcohol wipes, and hand sanitizers to medical clinics and hospitals serving the vulnerable communities, as well as food and other basic necessities to children and families affected. They have a permit to engage in relief efforts and are accepting donations to support their work.
- The Child Foundation is collecting donations to provide medical supplies for healthcare workers and communities in Afghanistan and Iran. They plan to shift their resources as needed based on which governments are accepting medical equipment and which communities are in most need.
In addition, if you would like more information on the recent Travel Ban affecting those entering the United States from Iran, please see our FAQ on the Travel Ban.
You can find our previous coronavirus updates here:
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