Things have gone from bad to worse to outright crisis in Iran over the past 72 hours.
The country said the total number of coronavirus cases nearly doubled to 978, including more than 50 deaths. Iran now has the highest number of deaths from the disease outside of China.
Officials reported some 170 cases in Tehran alone, meaning the disease is “loose” (so to speak) in the capital.
That chart is more than a little disconcerting, especially considering the country is, humanitarian exemptions aside, cut off from USD funding and generally operating under the “pariah state” label thanks to the theocracy’s ongoing feud with the Trump administration.
“There were 385 new cases of infected people in the last 24 hours, increasing the total number to 978. The death toll is 54″, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said, on state TV Sunday.
Officials warned Iranians to cancel unnecessary trips and stay in their homes.
“We have set up centers across the country to help people to tackle the virus”, an unnamed member of the IRGC quoted by Press TV said, adding that “people should follow the advice of health officials”.
This is the third national tragedy to befall Iran in the space of two months. The outbreak comes on the heels of the targeted assassination of Qassem Soleimani and the accidental downing of a commercial airliner by the IRGC during the frantic minutes around the country’s retaliatory strikes on US targets inside Iraq in January.
Soleimani’s death united the nation just two months on from some of the largest street protests in recent memory (originally sparked by the bungled rollout of a fuel price hike). Those protests triggered a violent (and deadly) crackdown by the government.
But anger over the regime’s oppressive tactics during the protests was overwhelmed (and then some) by grief for Soleimani, an almost god-like figure even among progressive elements in the country who were steadfastly opposed to what he represented.
And yet, the country was again torn apart when the regime admitted to inadvertently shooting down the Boeing 737 which crashed outside Tehran during “Operation Martyr Soleimani“, killing all 176 people on board.
To be clear, nobody (not even Mike Pompeo) seriously suggested that Iran meant to shoot down the plane, but it was (as Hassan Rouhani called it) an “unforgivable” mistake, and it quickly catalyzed new anti-regime protests, all but erasing the sense of national unity fostered by Soleimani’s assassination.
Now, the populace will almost surely blame the theocracy for an inadequate response to the coronavirus, as the infection total rises and the death toll mounts.
Trump on Saturday said the US was ready to send immediate assistance to the country. Last week, the US and Switzerland opened a humanitarian trade channel allowing international companies to engage in trade with Iran to provide medical supplies, agricultural commodities and basic goods without risking the wrath of the US Treasury.
In the simplest possible terms, you’d be remiss not to ponder the possibility that, once the risk of infection from gathering in public subsides, protests will resume, as those inside the country angling to oust the theocracy will seek to capitalize politically on the seemingly unchecked spread of the disease.
As of this weekend, a half-dozen Iranian lawmakers had contracted the virus.