Iranian health official accuses UK of ‘hijacking’ masks earmarked for Tehran
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Iranian health official accuses UK of ‘hijacking’ masks earmarked for Tehran

Deputy health minister says British government took hold of 3 million masks purchased by Islamic Republic early on in pandemic and never delivered them to Tehran

Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk along Oxford Street in London, July 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk along Oxford Street in London, July 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Iran’s deputy health minister on Wednesday accused the United Kingdom of “hijacking” mask shipments that had been preordered by the Islamic Republic.

“The British government took hold of 3 million masks purchased by Iran in the first week of the coronavirus outbreak and did not deliver them to Iran, while Iran had already paid their price,” the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Qassem Janbabayee as saying during a government meeting in the central city of Arak.

The deputy minister added that Iran has been forced to manufacture its own PPE after most countries did not deliver the equipment purchased by Tehran.

Last week, Iran’s Science and Technology Vice President Sorena Sattari told reporters that “almost nothing related to COVID-19 has been imported from other countries and everything has been secured with reliance on domestic capability,” according to Fars.

“The knowledge-based companies have entered the scene very well, and much of the equipment used to fight against coronavirus were not produced in the country in the past, but today we are producing them at good levels, a sample of which is three-layer and filter-equipped masks,” Sattari added.

In this March 1, 2020, file photo, a medic treats a patient infected with coronavirus at a hospital in Tehran, Iran. (Ali Shirband/Mizan News Agency via AP, File)

Earlier this month, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said that 25 million Iranians have been infected with the coronavirus, a figure far higher than the country’s nearly 270,000 confirmed cases announced a day earlier.

Rouhani said there were 30 to 35 million people still at risk of contracting the virus. It was unclear how these figures were calculated and no reason was given for the discrepancy between the number of people previously announced to have been infected. Iran’s population is around 80 million.

Many, including Mossad head Yossi Cohen, have accused the Islamic Republic of under-reporting the scope of its coronavirus outbreak.

Before Iran reported its first cases of the virus in February, authorities denied it had reached the country for days, allowing the virus time to spread as the nation marked the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution with mass demonstrations and then held a parliamentary election in which authorities desperately sought to boost turnout.

A parliamentary report in April said Iran’s death toll is likely nearly double the officially reported figures. Given insufficient testing, the report said the number of people infected at the time was probably “eight to 10 times” higher than the reported figures.

People wearing protective face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus walk through the Nasr Shopping Center in Tehran, Iran, July 15, 2020 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Even today, Iranian death tolls remain based on those who died in coronavirus wards in hospitals. However, it’s believed that many more died at home, and some families have reportedly asked doctors not to mention their loved ones died of the virus to avoid the stigma associated with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Iran has been battling a resurgence of infections, with official figures showing a rise in both new infections and deaths since a two-month low in May.

Tehran has refrained from imposing full lockdowns but closed schools and canceled public gatherings.

It banned travel between provinces in March but lifted the order the next month.

The rising toll has prompted authorities to make masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces and allow worst-hit provinces to reimpose restrictions, with the capital Tehran among the latest closing some public spaces like coffee shops, zoos, and indoor swimming pools.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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