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Iranian regime's COVID-19 response has been chaotic from start

By Struan Stevenson
Iranian regime's COVID-19 response has been chaotic from start
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has finally been vaccinated against COVID-19. File Photo courtesy of Iran's supreme leader office/EPA-EFE

July 8 (UPI) -- Iran's increasingly delusional supreme leader, 82-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has finally been vaccinated against COVID-19. He told the state-run media in Iran that he had avoided foreign-made vaccines and waited for the Iranian vaccine "because we have to be proud of this national honor."

He omitted to acknowledge that his ban on American and British vaccines and enforced delay in providing protection for his nation's 80 million citizens has led to the deaths of more than 325,000 people from COVID-19. Active resistance units of the Mojahedin e-Khalq, the main democratic opposition movement, have kept a running tally in thousands of villages, towns and cities throughout Iran to provide the real fatalities figure. Embarrassed by the extent of the rising death toll, the mullahs claim the official figure to be 85,000.

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The home-made COVIran Barekat vaccine has been produced by the Iranian pharmaceutical company Shifafarmed, using a deactivated virus. Safety studies have been underway since last December, but the mullahs rushed through its emergency authorization in late June when it became apparent that China and Russia were withholding further supplies of their Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines.

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The ending of vaccine supplies was probably due to Iran's inability to pay its bills, as the Iranian economy has hit rock bottom. Although the clerical regime in Tehran has so far failed to publish efficacy data on their homemade jab, it has been reported that people who have had the vaccine get around 85% immunity, poor by comparison with American and British jabs.

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The mullahs' response to the pandemic has been chaotic from day one. Initially, following a surge of COVID-19 cases in the holy city of Qom, dozens of videos were posted online showing pious Muslim supporters of the regime licking and kissing the walls and bars of holy shrines to show that they were not afraid of the virus. Some of the videos even showed mullahs encouraging their children to lick and kiss the shrines.

As the coronavirus spread rapidly across Iran, supplies of personal protective equipment quickly ran out, forcing hospital workers to treat COVID-19 patients wearing homemade masks. Soon it emerged that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps -- the regime's Gestapo -- were selling PPE on the black-market and pocketing the profits.

From the start, the mullahs' reaction to the coronavirus has been a master class in what not to do in such circumstances. The regime's response has involved cover-ups, secrecy and heavy-handed intervention by the security forces, arresting protesters and dissenters in a bid to quell mounting public anger. The Iranian population had vented their hatred of the theocratic regime in a nationwide uprising in November 2019 that resulted in over 1,500 unarmed protesters being shot dead by the IRGC, with thousands more arrested and imprisoned.

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Public outrage at the IRGC was compounded in January 2020 when they shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing all of the passengers and crew, and initially tried to deny responsibility for the catastrophe. By the time the coronavirus began to spread across Iran, pent-up anger against the mullahs and their corrupt and vicious mismanagement had reached the boiling point.

Ignoring all of the warnings, with the Iranian ministry of health still denying that there was a single case of COVID-19 anywhere in the country in late January 2020, the mullahs continued to allow regular air travel with China right up until the end of March that year. While countries around the world closed down all travel to and from China, return flights of the regime's Mahan Air even continued between Tehran and even Wuhan, the source of the pandemic.

Mahan Air ran hundreds of flights to and from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the United Arab Emirates between late January and the end of March 2020, spreading the virus across the entire Middle East. Cabin crew on Mahan Air have claimed they were forced to continue working and prohibited from speaking about their condition, even when they were suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.

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The height of incompetence by the regime was reached in February 2020, when the mullahs allowed the 41st anniversary celebrations of the revolution and parliamentary elections to take place. Although poorly attended by the disgruntled populace, both events acted as super-spreaders of the virus, which then began to rage out of control. On Feb. 24, Iraj Harirchi, the deputy health minister, who had previously denied any presence of the virus in Iran, was seen repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow and coughing at a press conference. The next day, he tested positive. Soon the mullahs switched from utter denial of the outbreak to blaming the Americans for causing the pandemic.

At a press conference on March 22, 2020, Khamenei accused the Americans, stating, "You have allegedly produced the virus. One must be insane to trust that you will bring medicine. Your drugs may even spread the disease further or stabilize the virus. Or, if you send a physician, you may want to closely test the toxic effects of the virus you have created. Because it's said that given the knowledge about Iranian genes, part of the virus has been specially created for Iran."

After this disturbing and deluded outburst he then banned the international aid agency M├ędecins Sans Frontieres (MSF or Doctors Without Borders), from helping Iranian victims of the virus and expelled them from the country. Sporadic opening and closing of mosques, relaxing and reimposing lockdowns and poor-quality healthcare, led to wave after wave of the virus sweeping the land.

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The people of Iran are suffering under a corrupt and incompetent clerical dictatorship that is the godfather of international terror, sponsoring proxy wars around the Middle East, building nuclear weapons, bankrupting the economy and brutally oppressing its citizens, while failing to protect their health. These are the primary ingredients for revolution.

Struan Stevenson is the coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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