News Digest: Week of March 2

March 2

Medicine: Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi announced 523 new coronavirus cases and 12 new deaths, a total of 1,501 cases and 66 fatalities since the outbreak was first reported on February 19. State media reported that Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a senior member of the Expediency Council, was among the dead.

Medicine/Human Rights: France, Germany and Britain pledged $5.6 million in financial aid to help the Iranian government fight the coronavirus. The so-called E3 countries also announced a delivery of medical equipment through the World Health Organization and other U.N. agencies. "France, Germany and the United Kingdom express their full solidarity with all impacted by COVID-19 in Iran," the countries said in a joint statement.

Medicine/Human Rights: The World Health Organization (WHO) sent a team of doctors and medical equipment to Iran aboard a United Arab Emirates military aircraft. "Today's flight will carry 7.5 tonnes of medical equipment and supplies, primarily the critical items needed for infection prevention and control to support health care workers in Iran," said Robert Blanchard, a WHO official in Dubai.


March 3

Medicine: Iran reported 2,336 coronavirus cases and 77 deaths. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged citizens to follow sanitary guidelines but downplayed the threat of the virus. “Don’t violate the recommendations and instructions of the responsible authorities in terms of prevention, in terms of keeping hands, face and living environment clean and not infecting these and preventing the infection of these,” he said. “The issue is an issue that will pass. It’s not something extraordinary. I don’t want to minimize the issue but let’s not make it very big either.”

Medicine/Politics: Lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri claimed that 23 members of parliament—nearly 10 percent—were infected with the coronavirus. “These people have a close relationship with the people and they carry different viruses from different parts of the country, which may create a new virus, so we recommend the lawmakers to cut off their relationship with the public for now,” he said.

Military: Iranian authorities announced the mobilization of 300,000 troops to help stem the coronavirus outbreak. Officials had initially suggested that the soldiers would help sanitize the streets, direct traffic, and go to households to test and treat citizens.

Nuclear: The U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Iran had nearly tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium in the last three months, according to a confidential report circulated to member states. The agency reported that Iran had 1,020.9 kilograms of stockpiled uranium, compared to 372.3 kilograms in November 2019. Iran was restricted to a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms in the 2015 nuclear deal.


March 4

Medicine: The Health Ministry reported 2,922 cases and 92 deaths linked to coronavirus. President Rouhani said that the coronavirus had spread to nearly every province. He criticized U.S. attempts to provide humanitarian aid. “They [the United States] have appeared with a mask of sympathy that ‘we also want to help the people of Iran," he said. “If you are really telling the truth, then lift sanctions from medicine.”

Medicine/Society: Mohammad-Javad Haj Ali-Akbar, Chairman of the Friday Prayers Policy-Making Council, announced that Friday prayers would be cancelled for a second week in a row. The cancellation was extended to all provincial capitals.

Human Rights: The mother of Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran detained in Iran since July 2018, called for his release amid a coronavirus outbreak in Iranian prisons. “If something’s not done, he’s going to die over there,” said Joanne White. Michael White was convicted of insulting the supreme leader and posting private information online.


March 5

Medicine: Iran recorded 3,513 cases of coronavirus, including 107 deaths. Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced that schools and universities would be closed until March 20, extending the closures for an additional two weeks. He also introduced a national screening plan to stem the spread of the virus, which would include a smartphone application to register citizens’ health status. “Our method is not going into homes. We can use digital communications and ultimately the telephone. So we don’t see a reason to go to the doors of peoples’ homes,” Namazi  said.

Nuclear: U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said that Iran must “immediately” allow U.N. inspectors access to sites with undeclared nuclear material. The U.N. nuclear watchdog had reported three previously undisclosed sites in a report on March 3.  “Iran must be held to the same standards as every one of the other 190 parties,” Hook said.


March 6

Medicine: Iran’s Health Ministry reported 4,747 and 124 death from coronavirus. Authorities said they would use “force” to prevent Iranians from traveling to the Caspian Sea and other vacation spots. The government set up checkpoints and roadblocks in northern Gilan and Mazandaran provinces.