TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president Saturday estimated as many as 25 million Iranians could have been infected with the coronavirus since the outbreak’s beginning, and urged the public to take the pandemic seriously, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.
President Hassan Rouhani cited a new Iranian Health Ministry study in offering the unprecedentedly high number of infections. Officials have not explained what the report’s estimates are based on and the study has not been made public. Rouhani also said he believes an additional 30-35 million people could be infected in coming months, again without citing the basis for his estimate. Iran’s population is around 81 million people.
Iran has seen the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with more than 270,000 confirmed cases and at least 13,979 deaths.
The president’s remarks show that questions remain over the country’s official figures from the outbreak, even after the authorities publicly acknowledged its importance.
Referring to the Health Ministry report, Rouhani said it also predicts that the number of hospitalizations will soon be “twice as many as we have seen in the last 150 days.”
In recent weeks, Iran has seen daily death tolls spike to their highest-ever levels, sparking increasing fear even as government officials say they can’t lock the country back down for fear of cratering its sanctions-hit economy. Health officials have reported 2,166 new cases and 188 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Authorities in the capital Tehran are imposing new restrictions starting Saturday amid the increase in cases in recent weeks, closing some public spaces like coffee shops, zoos, and indoor swimming pools.
Before Iran reported its first cases of the virus in February, authorities denied it had reached the country for days, allowing the virus time to spread. The nation marked the 41st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution with mass demonstrations and then held a parliamentary election in which authorities desperately sought to boost turnout.
A parliamentary report in April said Iran’s death toll is likely nearly double the officially reported figures. Given insufficient testing, the report said the number of people infected at the time was probably “eight to 10 times” higher than the reported figures.
Even today, Iran’s death toll remains based on cases where people died in coronavirus wards in hospitals. However, it’s believed many more died at home. Some families have reportedly asked doctors not to mention their loved ones died of the virus to avoid the stigma associated with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.