A legislator from Iran’s Qom has accused the government of covering up the full extent of the coronavirus outbreak in the holy city, according to semi-official news agency ILNA.
In Monday’s report, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani accused Iran’s health ministry of not being transparent about the outbreak, which authorities say has killed 12 people.
The ILNA, which is close to reformists, said the legislator spoke of “50 deaths” in Qom alone.
“The rest of the media have not published this figure, but we prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people’s lives are in danger,” ILNA editor Fatemeh Madiani told the AFP news agency.
Farahani also said that more than 250 people are quarantined in the city, which is a popular place for religious study for Shia Muslims from across Iran and other countries, according to the report.
The health ministry, in a news conference on Monday, said only 12 people have died from the virus among 64 infections.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said the legislator’s comments mirrored scepticism among the citizens of the country.
“There’s a lot of doubt among the public about how transparent this government and this health ministry has been, because they have the memories of not too far away of the downing of the Ukrainian airliner that was shot down,” said Jabbari, referring to Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, which was accidentally shot down by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in January.
“The Iranian officials denied for three days they had anything to do with that incident,” she said. “So there is that memory still very fresh in people’s minds.”
Iraj Harirchi, the deputy health minister, responded swiftly to Farahani’s claim.
“I categorically deny this information,” he said in the televised news conference. “This is not the time for political confrontations. The coronavirus is a national problem,” he added.
Iranian officials also pledged to be transparent about the outbreak in the country.
“We will announce any figures [we have] on the number of deaths throughout the country. We pledge to be transparent about the reporting of figures,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.
Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it announced the first two deaths in Qom last Wednesday. Meanwhile, surrounding countries have closed their borders with Iran in hopes of containing the spread.