Iran warns virus could kill ‘millions’ in Islamic Republic

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran issues its most dire warning yet about the outbreak of the new coronavirus ravaging the country, suggesting “millions” could die in the Islamic Republic if the public keeps traveling and ignoring health guidance.

A state television journalist who also is a medical doctor gives the warning only hours after hard-line Shiite faithful the previous night pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines that had just been closed over fears of the virus. Meanwhile, Iran’s supreme leader issues a religious ruling prohibiting “unnecessary” travel in the country.

Roughly nine out of 10 of the over 18,000 cases of the new virus confirmed across the Middle East come from Iran, where authorities denied for days the risk the outbreak posed. Officials have now implemented new checks for people trying to leave major cities ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Friday, but have hesitated to quarantine the areas.

That’s even as the death toll in Iran sees another 13% increase today. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says the virus has killed 135 more people to raise the total to 988 amid over 16,000 cases.

The Iranian state TV journalist, Dr. Afruz Eslami, cites a study by Tehran’s prestigious Sharif University of Technology, which offered three scenarios. If people begin to cooperate now, Iran will see 120,000 infections and 12,000 deaths before the outbreak is over, she says. If they offer medium cooperation, there will be 300,000 cases and 110,000 deaths, she says.

But if people fail to follow any guidance, it could collapse Iran’s already-strained medical system, Eslami says. If the “medical facilities are not sufficient, there will be 4 million cases, and 3.5 million people will die,” she says.

Eslami doesn’t elaborate on what metrics the study used, but even reporting it on Iran’s tightly controlled state television represents a major change for a country whose officials had for days denied the severity of the crisis.

— AP

A cleric and a woman pray behind a closed door of Masoume shrine in the city of Qom, some 80 miles (125 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, March 16, 2020. (AP Photo)