The Head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization, Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali, said Tuesday that media fear-mongering over the new corornavirus and the spread of the disease in his country bolsters claims that the virus is a biological attack on China and Iran.
The virus is known to have killed dozens and infected thousands in Iran.
“A study of the consequences of the virus in terms of tolls or the extent of the epidemic and the type of media propaganda over this issue that is aimed at increasing fear and panic among people strengthens the speculations that a biological attack has been launched against China and Iran with economic goals,” Jalali told Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.
Jalali said that analysis and “certain news reports” point to the source of the virus being a hostile state, but that laboratory research is required to compare the new strain with the primary virus to in order to prove the assumption.
On Tuesday UN health officials said the new coronavirus is well-established in Iran, and warned that a lack of protective gear for healthcare workers was complicating efforts to control the outbreak.
“It is not an easy situation,” Michael Ryan, who heads the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, told reporters in Geneva.
The outbreak, which has claimed 77 lives and infected more than 2,300 people across the country, is affecting multiple cities, according, he pointed out.
“Like in some other countries, the disease is now well-established,” he said.
Ryan said rooting out the virus in countries where it has become established “is not impossible” but “it is difficult.”
“Doctors and nurses have concerns that they do not necessarily have enough equipment, supplies, ventilators, respirators, oxygen,” he said of Iran.
The WHO said on Tuesday that supplies of protective gear worldwide were rapidly depleting, threatening the overall response to the outbreak, which has killed more than 3,100 people — mostly in China where it was first detected in December last year.
But the problem is particularly serious in Iran.
“Those needs are more acute for the Iranian health system than they are for most any other health system,” Ryan said.
In a first step towards addressing the problem, a WHO team of experts arrived in Iran on Monday to help with the response, bringing with them medical supplies and enough laboratory kits to test roughly 100,000 people.
Iran has shut schools and universities, suspended major cultural and sporting events and cut back on work hours in response to the outbreak.
On Tuesday, it announced another 11 deaths and 835 new infections — the biggest increase in a single day since the COVID-19 outbreak began there nearly two weeks ago.
National emergency services chief Pirhossein Kolivand was the latest high-profile official to contract the illness, a spokesman for the services told AFP.
Mohammad Mirmohammadi, 72, a member of the Expediency Council which advises Iran’s supreme leader, died from the virus this week, according to Tasnim news agency.
The country’s deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi fell ill with COVID-19 last week.
Ryan said that while the spike in numbers could appear to be a very bad thing, it reflected “a more aggressive approach to surveillance and case detection.”
“Things tend to look worse before they get better,” he said, adding: “You have to find your problem, you have to recognize your problem and then deal with your problem.”