The death toll from the coronavirus in Iran is nearly three times as high as the Iranian government claims, a BBC Persian service has found.
Government data itself shows that nearly 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms by July 20, compared to 14,405 reported by its health ministry.
The number of people known to be infected is also almost double the official figure: 451,024 compared to 278,827.
Official numbers still make Iran the worst in the Middle East.
In recent weeks, it has experienced a second major increase in the number of cases.
The first death in Iran from Covid-19 was recorded on January 22, according to lists and medical records passed to the BBC. That was almost a month before the first official coronavirus case was reported there.
Daily number of deaths from Covid-19 in Iran
Official figures vs. data disclosed, 22 January – 20 July 2020
Since the outbreak of the virus in Iran, many observers have questioned the official numbers.
There have been irregularities in the data between the national and regional level, which some local authorities have talked about, and statistics have tried to provide alternative estimates.
A level of underestimation, mainly due to the ability to test, has been seen worldwide, but information released by the BBC reveals that Iranian authorities have reported significantly lower numbers, despite having a record of all deaths – suggesting that they had been intentionally suppressed.
Where did the data come from?
The data was sent to the BBC by an anonymous source.
It includes details of daily admissions to hospitals throughout Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of hospital stays, and conditions in which patients may be present.
The details in the list correspond to those of some living and dead patients already known to the BBC.
The source says they have shared this data with the BBC to “shed light on the truth” and end “political games” over the epidemic.
The discrepancy between the official figures and the number of deaths in these records also coincides with the difference between the official figure and the calculations of excessive mortality until mid-June.
Excess mortality refers to the number of deaths above and beyond what was expected under “normal” conditions.
Revealfaq reveal the data?
Tehran, the capital, has the highest death toll of 8,120 people who died of Covid-19 or similar symptoms.
The city of Qom, the initial epicenter of the virus in Iran, is most proportionately affected, with 1,419 deaths – one death from Covid-19 for every 1,000 people.
It is worth noting that, across the country, 1,916 deaths were non-Iranian nationals. This shows a disproportionate number of deaths among migrants and refugees, who are mostly from neighboring Afghanistan.
The general trend of cases and deaths in the released data is similar to official reports, albeit in different sizes.
The initial increase in deaths is much faster than the figures of the Ministry of Health and by mid-March it was five times the official figure.
Blockade measures were imposed during the Norwegian (Iranian New Year) holidays at the end of the third week in March, and there was a corresponding drop in cases and deaths.
But as government restrictions eased, cases and deaths began to rise again after the end of May.
Significantly, the first death recorded on the leak list occurred on January 22, a month before the first case of coronavirus was officially reported in Iran.
At the time, Ministry of Health officials were convinced not to accept a single case of coronavirus in the country, despite reports from journalists inside Iran, and warnings from various medical professionals.
In the 28 days until the first official announcement on February 19, 52 people had already died.
Who were the first whistles?
Doctors with direct knowledge of the matter have told the BBC that the Iranian health ministry has been under pressure from security and intelligence agencies inside Iran.
Dr Pouladi (not their real name) told the BBC that the ministry “was in denial”.
“Initially they did not have test kits and when they received them, they were not used enough. The position of the security services was not to acknowledge the existence of the coronavirus in Iran,” Dr Pouladi said.
It was the insistence of the two brothers, the two doctors from Qom, who forced the health ministry to accept the first official case.
When Dr Mohammad Molayi and Dr Ali Molayi lost their brother, they insisted he still had to be tested for Covid-19, which turned out to be positive.
At Kamkar Hospital, where their brother died, many patients were admitted with Covid-19-like symptoms, and they would not respond to routine treatments. However, none of them were tested for the disease.
Dr Pouladi says: “They became unfortunate. Someone with dignity and influence lost his brother. Dr Molayi had access to these gentlemen [health ministry officials] and he did not give up. ”
Dr Molayi released a video of his late brother with a statement. The Ministry of Health finally accepted the first registered case.
However, state TV kept a report criticizing him and falsely claiming his brother’s video was months old.
The start of the explosion coincided with both the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the parliamentary elections.
These were great opportunities for the Islamic Republic to demonstrate its popular support and not risk damaging it because of the virus.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, accused some of wanting to use the coronavirus to undermine the election.
In the case, the election had a very low turnout.
Before the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, Iran was already experiencing a series of crises of its own.
In November 2019, the government raised the price of gasoline overnight and crashed violently in the ensuing protests. Hundreds of protesters were killed within days.
In January this year, Iran’s reaction to the US assassination of senior Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, seen as one of the most powerful figures in Iran after its Supreme Leader, created another problem.
Then the Iranian armed forces – on high alert – mistakenly fired rockets at a Ukrainian plane just minutes after taking off from Tehran International Airport. All 176 people on board were killed.
Iranian authorities initially tried to hide what happened, but after three days they were forced to admit it, resulting in significant facial loss.
Dr Nouroldin Pirmoazzen, a former lawmaker who was also an official in the health ministry, told the BBC that in this context, the Iranian government was “anxious and afraid of the truth” when the coronavirus struck Iran.
He said: “The government feared that the poor and unemployed would take to the streets.”
Dr Pirmoazzen points to the fact that Iran banned the international health organization Médecins Sans Frontières from handling coronavirus cases in the central province of Isfahan, as evidence of how security-conscious its approach to the pandemic is.
Iran was going through difficult times even before the military showdown with the US and the coronavirus strike.
The sanctions that followed Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May 2018 hit the economy hard.
Dr Pouladi says: “Those who brought the country to this point do not pay the price. It’s the poor people of the country and my poor patients those who pay the price with their lives.”
“In the confrontation between the US and Iranian governments, we are being pressured by both sides.”
The health ministry has said the country’s reports to the World Health Organization regarding the number of coronavirus cases and deaths are “transparent” and “far from any deviation”.