In the course of a month Iran has gone from downplaying its coronavirus outbreak to now issuing its most dire warning yet. It first must be remembered that it was only on Feb. 19 that the Islamic Republic announced its first two confirmed cases originating in Qom (both of which died), the Iranian outbreak epicenter.
On Tuesday Iranian state TV journalist, Dr. Afruz Eslami, captured headlines in announcing to the country that Iran could see “millions” of deaths from the Covid-19 virus before the pandemic subsides.
His 'maximalist' prediction was geared toward urging people to take the threat seriously, at a moment there is popular unrest in the religious city of Qom over the new closure of an important Shia shrine.
The Associated Pres reports: "The death toll in Iran saw another 13% increase Tuesday. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the virus had killed 135 more people to raise the total to 988 amid over 16,000 cases."
More countries are also imposing emergency measures across the Middle East, with Syria having days ago shuttered universities and many public spaces - despite not reporting any official confirmed cases, and Jordan Tuesday banning gatherings of more that ten people.
But Iran has taken the most drastic measures as the virus' spread has continued unabated, with daily rising numbers. Tehran says it's now temporarily sent some 85,000 prisoners home to ensure the pandemic doesn't rip through the nation's overcrowded prisons and jails.
The AP reports further of Dr. Eslami's dire warning:
A state TV journalist who also is a medical doctor gave the warning only hours after hard-line Shiite faithful on Monday night pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines that were finally closed due to the virus. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious ruling prohibiting “unnecessary” travel.
Roughly 9 out of 10 of the over 18,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the Middle East come from Iran, where authorities denied for days the risk the outbreak posed. Officials have 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.
For comparison, if state TV's latest extreme warnings predicting over a million deaths is anywhere close to accurate, it would surpass the total casualty toll from the most devastating war in modern Middle East history: the Iran-Iraq war.
On Monday authorities finally ordered the closure of the Masoumeh shrine in Qom, after which Shia hardliners outraged at the decision stormed the shrine's courtyard:
The nightmare of containing #Coronavirus in #Iran: Mobs storm the Masoumeh shrine in Qom after authorities ordered its closure to stop virus.— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) March 16, 2020
Iran has > 15,000 cases and is major source of spreading to MENA: pic.twitter.com/WotRWH7RXB
Estimates from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war commonly range from 1,000,000 to twice that number. However, conservative estimates put it at 500,000 deaths - with the Iranian side suffering the greatest losses.