News Digest: Week of February 24

February 24

Medicine: Iran’s Health Ministry reported 61 cases of coronavirus and 12 deaths since the outbreak was first confirmed in the country on February 19. Cases were recorded in the provinces of Qom , Tehran, Gilan, Markazi, Isfahan, Mazandaran and Hamadan. The ministry said that the new cases were spread by individuals returning to Iran from Pakistan, Afghanistan and China.


Medicine: Ahmad Amiriabadi Farahani, an Iranian lawmaker from Qom, said that officials had not done enough to contain the disease and accused the regime of covering up the true number of deaths. He reported that 50 people had died from the coronavirus in Qom. “I think the performance of the administration in controlling the virus has not been successful,” Farahani said.  “So far, I have not seen any particular action to confront corona by the administration.”


Politics: Iranian lawmakers voted against the general outlines of the government’s proposed budget bill, which President Hassan Rouhani had introduced on December 8. Many parliament members allegedly rejected the initial proposal to avoid congregating in subsequent days out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. If the Majles had approved the general outlines of the bill, parliament would have been required to meet for two additional sessions.


February 25

Medicine: Iran’s health ministry reported 95 cases of coronavirus and 16 deaths since the outbreak began. President Rouhani claimed that the virus was being used by Iran's adversaries to cause panic in the country. "In schools, high schools, universities and work places, everybody should pay attention to health recommendations, but we must all continue our work and activities, because it is one of the enemies' plots to spread fear in our country and close down the country," Rouhani said. 

Medicine: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of covering up the extent of the outbreak. “The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo told reporters. “All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations."

Diplomacy: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif emphasized that the coronavirus could infect anyone. He called for regional unity to fight the disease "in line with the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE)." President Hassan Rouhani had introduced HOPE, which he said would “promote peace, stability, progress and welfare for all the residents of the Strait of Hormuz region,” at the U.N. General Assembly in September.


February 26

Medicine: The number of coronavirus cases in Iran rose to 139, including 19 deaths. President Rouhani urged the public not to let the virus become a "weapon" of the United States. "We must not let the United States attach a new virus to the coronavirus by stopping our social activities through tremendous fear; this is a conspiracy we see today and you see in foreign propaganda," he said. 


February 27

Medicine: Iran’s health ministry reported 254 coronavirus cases and 26 deaths. Authorities cancelled Friday prayer in the capitals of 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces as a precautionary measure.

Medicine: Masouma Ebtekar, Vice President for Women and Family Affairs and former spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, announced that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. She was at least the fourth senior Iranian official to be infected by the disease.   


Economy: The U.S. Treasury granted a license allowing foreign companies to conduct certain humanitarian transactions with Iran's sanctioned central bank. The humanitarian channel would permit the sale and delivery of food, medicine and other critical supplies to Iran, which was facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus. On January 30, the United States announced a new Swiss humanitarian channel that would ensure the sale and delivery of medicine to Iran.


February 28

Medicine:  Iran reported 388 cases of coronavirus and 34 related deaths. The government announced that it would close all schools for three days from February 29 to March 2. “We have a relatively difficult week we see the trend, the main peak of the disease will be in the next week and coming days,” said Health Minister Saeed Namaki. “Based on assessments it was felt that there was a need for closing all the schools in the country.”

Human Rights/Diplomacy: The United States offered Iran humanitarian aid to help stem the country’s coronavirus outbreak. “This offer of support to the Iranian people, which has been formally conveyed to Iran through the Government of Switzerland, underscores our ongoing commitment to address health crises and prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.


Diplomacy: Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said that it would be “diplomatic malpractice” to let a U.N. arms embargo on Iran expire in October 2020. “We are out of the deal, [and] our energies have been focused on the measures we can do unilaterally,” he said. “We are trying to do what we can with the U.N. Security Council. … We need to renew [the arms embargo] in October.”