The New York Times

The New York Times 10 Mar 2020

Iran Played Down the Coronavirus. Then Its Officials Got Sick


More than 237 people have died of coronavirus in Iran, and critics say the government was slow to respond to the outbreak because it failed to take it seriously.

President Donald Trump has consistently underplayed the severity of the coronavirus and its impact on the country over the past few months. And who has comes to his defense? Vice President Mike Pence! Chris Cillizza runs through some of the top moments President Trump has belittled the threat of coronavirus.
CNN's Anderson Cooper reports that President Donald Trump plans to wind down the coronavirus task force near the end of May.
We cannot put paralyzing panic over practical precautions. #FoxNews #Hannity

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In this episode of UpFront we challenge prominent Iranian political analyst Mohammad Marandi on how Tehran is handling the coronavirus.

And in a Special Interview, Brazilian congresswoman Tabata Amaral explains why she thinks President Jair Bolsonaro is putting millions of lives at risk.

COVID-19: Iran's government 'didn't botch the response'

According to official figures, at least six people die every hour in Iran from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The Islamic republic has become one of the world's coronavirus epicentres, with the death toll surpassing 3,000 this week and cases topping 50,000.

As the virus spreads in Iran, the government has been criticised for its response to the crisis, particularly how it handled the situation in Qom, now the country's worst-hit city where the outbreak began. It has also been accused of playing down the number of cases.

But Iranian political analyst Mohammad Marandi claims the Iranian government acted to fight the virus as soon as the first case was discovered.

"Iran got its first kit, I think on February the 17th. And on February the 19th, they discovered their first case. And they declared it on the very same day. And the fight began since then," Marandi said.

"The Iranian government didn't botch the response. I'm not an advocate of the administration but the Iranian government, as soon as it discovered what the problem was, it began to deal with it, but they didn't know the scope of the problem," he added.

Marandi blamed US sanctions for Iran's difficulty in obtaining kits as well as for the shortage of medical supplies in the country.

"They've [the US] weaponised the coronavirus for the Iranian people by prohibiting Iran from using the banking sector, by prohibiting Iran from purchasing goods from important pharmaceutical companies. The United States has put so many conditions on different pharmaceutical companies across the world, that they will not work with Iran," Marandi said.

When asked whether he agreed with claims made by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei that the coronavirus was a chemical weapon created by the Americans, Marandi said he did not know where the virus originated.

"I don't know what was the origin of this virus, but I know that the regime in Washington has been using it as a weapon against Iranians. Don't blame the victim, that's ugly," he said.

This week's Headliner, Mohammad Marandi, Iranian political analyst and professor at the University of Tehran, explains the government's response to the coronavirus.

COVID-19: Brazil's Bolsanaro is putting 'lives in danger'

With some 7,000 cases and 200 deaths, Brazil has more COVID-19 infections than any other country in Latin America. The country's health minister warns the healthcare system could be overwhelmed by the end of April.

Yet, President Jair Bolsonaro has been downplaying the pandemic. He has referred to the virus as a "little flu" and "hysteria" and even visited a busy market outside the country's capital, Brasília, in a bid to get people back to work.

Brazilian congresswoman Tabata Amaral accused Bolsanaro of lying and using social media to spread fake news.

"By doing those things, and by telling people to go to their streets, and actually going himself to greet the crowds, which he did last weekend, he's putting lives in danger," Amaral said.

"I'm very ashamed by all of the things he is doing, especially in moments of crisis, we need a leader who tells people everything will be all right," she added.

In March, Bolsonaro visited the US for a meeting with President Donald Trump. When he returned to Brazil, more than 20 members of his delegation tested positive for the virus. Bolsonaro says he tested negative for COVID-19, but speculation continues in Brazil that he may have the virus.

"He is not someone known for telling the truth, and he hasn't been, he hasn't shown his test ... But the bigger point is that he is being extremely irresponsible," Amaral said.

A movement is growing inside Brazil calling for Bolsanaro's impeachment, but Amaral stopped short of supporting it at this time.

"I do think he should be held accountable for everything he's doing - but after the crisis. I don't think my country can handle another crisis on top of coronavirus right now," Amaral said.

President Trump has employed rhetoric similar to the claims made by the Brazilian president. Like Bolsanaro, Trump has dismissed fears about the virus, saying it would "go away" and describing it as a political "hoax".

But Amaral says that while Bolosonaro is a fan of Trump, the two leaders' response to the virus differs.

"President Trump is more pragmatic. When he saw all of the people who were dying in the US, when he saw all of what that meant to his popularity, to the economy, he changed his attitude, and Bolsonaro is not changing the attitude," Amaral said.

In this week's Special Interview, we discuss Jair Bolsanaro's defiance in the face of the coronavirus with

… show captions ↓
In the town of Rasht, a funeral procession
for a doctor who died of coronavirus.
In Qeshm, protesters block a checkpoint because they
fear letting in clerics coming from an infected area.
And in a cemetery in Qom, a burial is taking place.
The man filming provides commentary.
Qom is the city
where Iran’s first coronavirus cases appeared.
Though authorities expressed little concern for days,
and now, it appears workers are digging trenches
for mass graves.
Iran says at least 237 people have died.
It’s one of the highest death tolls outside of China.
How did this happen?
At key moments officials made serious missteps,
and failed to take protective measures.
On Feb. 19, the first coronavirus deaths
are reported in Iran in the religious city of Qom.
But victims likely contracted the virus
weeks earlier, and in a city full of holy sites
the visitors touch and kiss,
that could have helped spread it.
Iran’s health ministry did ask the city
to close the shrines, but it was never enforced.
So people continued to visit them.
Two days after the deaths in Qom,
Iran held nationwide parliamentary elections.
But out at polling stations,
there was little sign of a nation
on the brink of an epidemic.
No one was wearing gloves or masks,
and there was lots of close contact.
Officials tried in the days that
followed to calm the public.
But their efforts were undercut
by bizarre appearances.
Here’s Iran’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi,
on state TV saying things were under control.
But throughout the presser, he was
sweating, coughing and dismissing common-sense
prevention methods.
Harirchi went on TV a second time that day,
making jokes about proper coughing protocol.
But the next day, Harirchi announced on social media
that he, himself, had contracted the virus.
This shocking turn of events
put Iran’s mismanagement of the epidemic
on international display.
“People in Iran are panicking.”
“Well, now he’s become part of the story
because he’s got the virus.”
President Hassan Rouhani then tried to pin the spreading virus
on Iran’s enemies.
It took officials nine days after the first coronavirus
death to cancel Friday prayers, where large groups
typically gather.
Meanwhile, high-profile cases started appearing.
At least 23 lawmakers
now have the virus.
A vice president announces that she, too,
has the coronavirus — just days prior,
here she is sitting near President Rouhani.
Then on March 1, a close aide of the supreme leader,
Ali Khamenei, dies of coronavirus.
Shortly after, the government ordered all schools
and universities to shut down, and Khamenei
tries to rewrite history.
Iran is finally putting tougher measures in place.
But by letting the virus get out of hand, officials
turned their country into an epicenter.

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