On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lambasted Iran and China for covering up and censoring vital information, warning that “censorship can have deadly consequences” for countries around the world as they attempt to understand and prepare for the quickly-moving COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
.@SecPompeo on responses to the #coronavirus in China and Iran: Censorship can have deadly consequences. All nations should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations. pic.twitter.com/nCXVy1zhMG
— Department of State (@StateDept) February 25, 2020
Meanwhile, an Iranian health official has tested positive for the virus after potentially exposing members of the public and fellow regime officials.
This is #Iran’s deputy health minister, who we now know has #coronavirus, giving an interview about #COVID19 on state TV last night. The anchor says to him “you are coughing” he says “maybe I should cover my mouth like this” pic.twitter.com/2A7xRrCkTv
— Ali Arouzi (@aliarouzi) February 25, 2020
The New York Times reports that what we’re seeing in Iran is the “Recipe for a Massive Viral Outbreak“
Religious pilgrims, migrant workers, businessmen, soldiers and clerics all flow constantly across Iran’s frontiers, often crossing into countries with few border controls, weak and ineffective governments and fragile health systems.
Now, as it struggles to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Iran is also emerging as the second focal point after China for the spread of the disease. Cases in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates — even one in Canada — have all been traced to Iran, sending tremors of fear rippling out from Kabul to Beirut.
The Middle East is in many ways the perfect place to spawn a pandemic, experts say, with the constant circulation of both Muslim pilgrims and itinerant workers who might carry the virus. Iran’s economy has been strangled by sanctions, its people have lost trust in their government and its leaders are isolated from much of the world, providing little clarity about the extent of the epidemic.
Civil wars or years of unrest have shattered the health systems of several neighboring countries, like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. And most of the region is governed largely by authoritarians with poor track records at providing public transparency, accountability and health services.
“It is a recipe for a massive viral outbreak,” said Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the former founding executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on H.I.V./AIDS.