Iranian resistance group, citing documents, says regime knew of coronavirus cases in January

Iranian resistance group, citing documents, says regime knew of coronavirus cases in January

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The Iranian regime knew that the country had coronavirus infections in Tehran as early in January, an Iranian resistance group is claiming — a timeline much earlier than that given by government officials.

The Iranian government has said that the virus first hit the country on Feb. 19. The virus soon ripped through the country in the following weeks, infecting a number of top lawmakers as well. It has led to international calls for the U.S. to end its “maximum pressure” campaign on the regime, in which it resumed sanctions after withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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But the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella of Iranian resistance groups opposed to the regime, this week published documents it says shows that Iran had multiple cases in late January, weeks earlier than stated by authorities.

The latest documents consist of mission reports from the government’s National Emergency Organization, and carrying the emblem of the country’s Health Ministry, that outline multiple suspected cases of the virus — all from the Chinese Embassy in Tehran. In those cases, the reports note that they showed symptoms of the coronavirus, and their colleagues had symptoms as well.

One of those documents, according to the NCRI’s translation, was a 37-year-old woman with signs of coughing and a cold. The document was dated Jan 28.

“She says she works at the Chinese Embassy (in Tehran), and her colleagues have had symptoms of Coronavirus. She is hospitalized. Vital signs checked. Neurology testing is normal. Initial action was taken, and she was transferred to the medical center,” the document says.

The NCRI contrasted that information with claims by Iranian officials in early February that there were no coronavirus cases in the country. They also claim the information was suppressed in order to ensure participation in the February elections — which resistance groups called on Iranians to boycott.

“These documents show that contrary to the regime’s lies and cover-up, officials, including [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei and his president Hassan Rouhani knew of the spread of the virus to Iran at least three weeks before making it public.” Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “But to ensure participation in the anniversary of their coming to power on February 11 and the sham parliamentary election on February 21, they concealed the facts.”

“This makes it palpably clear that the safety, health and lives of the Iranian people have no value as far as the religious fascism ruling Iran is concerned. They only thing the mullahs care about is to preserve their corrupt and criminal rule,” he said.

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The State Department has also expressed skepticism about what the Iranian authorities say. In a fact sheet, the agency says that Deputy Health Minister Ali-Reza Raisi told reporters on Feb. 10: “I declare that there are no cases of coronavirus in the country and our citizens should only follow news released by the Health Ministry on the coronavirus.” But the agency says a 63-year-old woman died of the virus the same day.

“I also want to call attention to the Iranian regime’s misinformation campaign surrounding the origination of the Wuhan virus,” Secretary Mike Pompeo said on March 17. “Instead of focusing on the needs of the Iranian people and accepting genuine offers of support, senior Iranians lied about the Wuhan virus outbreak for weeks.”

The documents could likely serve to increase pressure on the Iranian government, which has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the coronavirus crisis. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pushed back against that criticism, saying authorities had to weigh quarantine efforts with Iran’s struggling economy.

“Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting. “We must put these principles together to reach a final decision.”

State TV on Sunday reported another 123 deaths, pushing Iran’s overall toll to 2,640 amid 38,309 confirmed cases. The NCRI says it believes that the death toll is above 15,000.

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Iran is not the only country under scrutiny for allegedly covering up what it knew about the virus in the early days of the crisis. The Trump administration has repeatedly blamed the Chinese government for a secretive approach and not sharing what it knew about the virus — which quickly turned into a global pandemic within a few months.

On Wednesday, President Trump said Iran was planning a “sneak attack” on U.S. troops or “assets” in Iraq, and warning the country will pay a “heavy price” if this happens.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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