The number of reported deaths from the coronavirus in Iran is about half of the actual number, according to the Iranian parliament.
Iran’s parliament research center released a 46-page report on Tuesday and folded the death count estimate into a footnote on page 6, according to The Associated Press. The report said that the Iranian government is vastly underreporting the effects of the coronavirus on the country.
The report blamed limited testing and the fact that only people who tested positive for COVID-19 and died in a hospital are counted in the Iran’s total deaths. The researchers estimated that the real death count is around 80% to 100% higher and that the total number of infections is likely “eight to 10 times” times higher.
By reported figures, Iran is the worst hit country in the Middle East, reporting nearly 80,000 cases of the coronavirus and about 4,900 deaths by Thursday morning.
“In order to have more compatibility between protocol and estimated statistics, it is necessary to increase laboratory and testing capabilities in the country,” the report said. “Needless to say that through increasing the capacities, diagnosis of disease will be more possible and spread of the disease will be more limited.”
Iran’s Deputy Health Minister Ali Reza Raisi denied the official report’s estimates on Wednesday, saying, “the real figures are more than the official statistics but it is not correct to multiply official figures by two or three.”
The Iran parliament report supports U.S. officials who have long suspected that Iran’s coronavirus reporting is inaccurate, at best, or an attempted coverup. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of the latter in late February saying the regime “may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak.”
“All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations,” Pompeo said at the time.
The coronavirus has infected a number of Iran’s top officials and lawmakers. The pathogen killed the former Iranian ambassador to Syria Hossein Sheikholeslam and Mohammad Mirmohammadi, adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
The pandemic has rocked Iran’s already devastated economy and has invited more pressure and criticism of the Ayatollah after he failed to hold together the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in May 2018, reinstituting strict sanctions on the Iranian economy.
Iranian leaders have tried to blame the pandemic on the U.S. despite the virus originating in Wuhan, China. Hossein Salami, leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in early May that the coronavirus is likely a weapon created by the US.
“We are now dealing with a biological war,” Salami said. The coronavirus “may be the product of American biological warfare.”
Iran’s charge echoes an accusation pushed by Chinese officials and propagandists throughout March. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao pushed a conspiracy that the U.S. military manufactured the virus in a tweet on March 12.
“CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in U.S.? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! U.S. owe us an explanation!” Zhao said.
Chinese officials’ roles in pushing the conspiracy earned a rebuke from the State Department.
“Secretary Pompeo conveyed strong U.S. objections to PRC efforts to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said. “The Secretary stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat.”