Rouhani’s Evolving Views on COVID-19

President Hassan Rouhani’s position on the COVID-19 pandemic gradually evolved as the crisis expanded and the death toll mounted. The first official report of deaths from the new virus was on February 19. Rouhani initially downplayed the threat of the disease. On February 23, he compared the impact of the virus to U.S. sanctions; he claimed the psychological effect of both was far worse than reality. On February 25, Rouhani claimed that the virus was under control and the number of people hospitalized had “reduced dramatically.” But the number of cases and deaths attributed to coronavirus continued to rise. By March 1, Iran reported 978 cases and 54 deaths.


Rouhani’s tone had changed by mid-March, when Iran reported nearly 13,000 cases and more than 600 deaths from the virus. In a letter to world leaders on March 14, Rouhani acknowledged the severity of Iran’s outbreak and urged international unity. “This virus does not know any borders and chooses its victims without any political, religious, ethnic and racial consideration,” he said. “Confronting the virus requires coordinated regional and international actions on the one hand, and taking tough measures, meeting the basic needs of the people, providing financial support to those affected by the suspension of economic businesses, enormous health and medical costs, etc. on the other hand.”

On March 29, Rouhani warned that Iran’s “new way of life" could last for an extended period. “We must prepare to live with the virus until a treatment is discovered. The new measures that have been imposed are for everyone’s benefit. Our main priority is the safety and the health of our people," Rouhani said. The following traces the evolution of President Rouhani’s statements on the coronavirus crisis.


Feb. 24, 2020, in a meeting with cabinet members:

“We give an assurance that we’d do our utmost to ensure the health of people. Accordingly, we immediately set up the headquarters to prevent and combat (coronavirus) and have mobilized all of our resources.”

“Our purpose is to control the disease in the shortest time with the minimum casualties.”


Feb. 25, 2020, in a meeting at the National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus:

“The decisions made by the headquarter are binding and unnecessary gatherings will be closed down.”

“In today's session, I emphasized to the Minister of Health and Medical Education that whatever medical personnel at hospitals need for their protection must be prioritized and provided as quickly as possible.”

“The report states that the virus is being controlled and the number of people going to hospitals has reduced dramatically.”

“I want to emphasize that all health facilities and our caring personnel are trusted by all people and they have always been active at all junctures.”

“Activities throughout the country must continue like the previous weeks and months, but in public situations people have to exercise the health and medical care.”

“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.”

“The National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus recommends people not to hold unnecessary gatherings.”

“Everyone must consider these decisions binding. Regarding its religious aspect, because these decisions are endorsed by the Supreme National Security Council and the Supreme Leader, we have to abide by them.”


Mar. 4, 2020, in a cabinet meeting:

“This disease is a widespread disease. It has reached almost all our provinces and in one sense it’s a global disease.”

 “They [the United States] have appeared with a mask of sympathy that ‘we also want to help the people of Iran.’ If you are really telling the truth, you should at least lift your sanctions on medicine. This would be a first step. And you also need to admit that you have done wrong to the Iranian nation and offer them an apology.”

“The worst thing the ill-wishers of Iran and Iranians can do is to exploit the circumstances brought up by the intrusion of one virus into the country to target our people.”


Mar. 11, 2020, in a cabinet meeting

“The entire government is playing a role in the committee. There is no individual in our administration that is not engaged.”

“What does a normal life mean? This means electricity, water, petrol, gas and monetary issues. Our effort is focused on making people’s lives, which are currently difficult, easier and more tolerable.”


Mar. 14, 2020, in a letter to world leaders

"This virus does not know any borders and chooses its victims without any political, religious, ethnic and racial consideration."

"Confronting the virus requires coordinated regional and international actions on the one hand, and taking tough measures, meeting the basic needs of the people, providing financial support to those affected by the suspension of economic businesses, enormous health and medical costs, etc. on the other hand; the implementation of these measures requires a strong economic power and tens of billions of dollars in funding."

"Their [United States] Secretary of State has impudently urged other countries to make sending humanitarian aid to Iran subject to the fulfilment of America's irrational and inhumane demands."

"There is no doubt that in the face of a dangerous global epidemic, Tehran and Qom are not far from Paris, London and New York, and any policy that weakens the economic structure and medical system, and limits financial resources for crisis management, will have direct effects on the fight against the epidemic in other countries."

"It is time for the international community to stand up to the United States' illegal and inhumane bullying and not let the unjust U.S. sanctions against Iran affect the fight against the deadly virus."

"U.S. sanctions against Iran -and following them by other nations- are not only illegal and contrary to U.N. Security Council resolution, but also unethical and inhumane, and its inhumane dimension today concerns no longer only the Iranian people, but the people of the region, and it encompasses other countries as well; this is not a collective punishment of the Iranian people, but a collective punishment against all humanity.”


Mar. 18, 2020, in a cabinet meeting

“Compare Tehran to London, Berlin, and Paris… See for yourselves what is going on there. Shop racks have been emptied and people got into a fight over a roll of toilet paper. The people there are concerned about foodstuffs and their hospitals say they have run out of beds. However, we rushed to supply the public requirements amid the situation.”

“Some ask why the government isn’t intervening, but I think we have intervened significantly.”

“Great things have been done (including) measures no other country has taken.”


Mar. 28, 2020, at a meeting of the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus

“Thank God we have strengthened our health system so much over the past six years that anyone infected with coronavirus enters hospitals today gets 90% of government and insurance payments and he only pays 10%, while in different countries, from the first test they want to take, they are charged between $1,300 to $1,500 for a night in hospital.”

“Thank God we are not one of those countries where food is available from 8am to 10am where if anyone goes at 10am, he faces empty shelves until tomorrow morning.”

“If God forbid, we get sick, we must observe the social distance. Today at this meeting. We asked people to stay in their own province and not travel to other provinces.

“There are also penalties for people who do not listen, which I hope will never happen. If people cooperate well with the police and law enforcement on the road, there is no need to fine them.”

“We know we are under sanctions, but we allocated 20 percent of our budget this year, about 100 trillion rials to fighting coronavirus.”


Mar. 29, 2020, in a cabinet meeting

“One doctor gave me an example, saying it was like the flu that is there, going and coming, rising and falling, and coming again. So we have to prepare ourselves to live with such a virus until a definite cure or a vaccine is found, none of which has happened yet.

“After starting our daily activities, it doesn't mean that we should put all those health protocols aside. We have to continue this new lifestyle for a while, and maybe even in some areas the disease can give us a chance to do a part of our life electronically, and this is in the interest of our society.

“We may change our relationships with people in offices, community services, and even distribution centres that supply the necessary goods, so there will be changes in our lifestyle that may last for some time.

“But here I would like to emphasise to the dear people of the country that we have not made any decisions to date at the National Task Force for Fighting Coronavirus unless we have discussed them in the specialized committees and the experts have identified the best way at that time.

“They told us that holy places should be closed for New Year's Eve, and we listened; they said Friday prayers should stop, we listened to everything the experts said and followed them.

“We can almost say that we started with unanimous decisions - it wasn't like 20% agreeing and 80% disagreeing, but we have always tried to come up with a single decision.

“But our dear people must know that besides health, which is the first principle for us today, production is also a principle; we cannot shut down production in the country; we cannot shut down the production and distribution of food and sanitation, or our shops and stores; We cannot close the public needs of people, including water, electricity, gas and transportation. This is not possible.

“That is, the management of the society is based on the idea that health, production, and security are the key to us; all the armed forces, the border guards, the police, and everybody are working.

“Another point I would like to say is that now is not the time for gathering teams and waging a political war; it is not about political war, nor party, nor ethnicity, nor national; but it is a public global issue.”


Apr. 11, 2020, in a press conference

“Easing restrictions does not mean ignoring health protocols ... Social distancing and other health protocols should be respected seriously by people.”


Apr. 12, 2020, in a press conference

“We had a sanctions virus, to which the coronavirus was added, but you [Europe and the United States] did not have the sanctions virus. You have one virus while we have two viruses.”

“We did better than you in the fight against the coronavirus.”

“This is an honor for all, for all our loved ones and people. Yes, our situation is relatively good in the fight against the disease and the dangerous virus, and our situation is better in comparison with some countries.”


Apr. 18, 2020, in a press conference

“A considerable number of people have not only observed health directives, but also have abided by the ‘stay-at-home’ motto very well and have not left home except for necessary affairs.”

“The Ministry of Health and Medical Education should work closely with relevant institutions to offer training to people and convince them of the necessity of abiding by the regulations and directives communicated to businesses which have resumed work.”


Apr. 20, 2020, in a call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

“In these difficult conditions, American pressure on the people of Iran is more inhumane than at any other time and the continuation of it is a barbaric crime against a great people and against all human principles and international regulations.”


Apr. 25, 2020, in a meeting with heads of Iranian private companies

“Our first request is that we should plan production long-term based on a pessimistic view that we might face this virus ... for months.”

“Maybe (we will face this) till the end of the year, we do not know.”


Apr. 26, 2020, during a meeting of the National Coronavirus Headquarters

“This is the first step in opening up religious sites that are of great interest to the people, and God willing, we hope that the white areas will expand day by day and we will have better conditions while the people observe.”

“Of course, our people have always come to the scene whenever there have been floods, earthquakes and other problems. Now, the month of Ramadan is also one of those occasions during which people should step forth and help in the face of hardships and problems.”


Apr. 28, 2020, in a phone call with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

“While the world is engulfed by the coronavirus epidemic and the policies must be shifted towards relations with (other) countries, sadly the US has intensified the unlawful sanctions against the Iranian nation, violated the world health regulations besides trampling on international rules, and is even preventing health and medical trade with Iran.”


Apr. 28, 2020, in a press conference

“Excessive fear, excessive anxiety, excessive worrying is worse than this corona itself and this virus and can really break up people’s lives and take away people’s comfort. But at the same time we shouldn’t be careless, meaning there must not be excessive anxiety and worrying and there must be necessary caution.”


Apr. 29, 2020, in a press statement

“I’m telling our dear people, because it is not clear when this virus outbreak is over, we should stand ready to keep working and continue to acquire science and knowledge, conduct research, keep the society alive and give hope to the society, with the assumption that unfortunately this virus is here to stay with people for quite some time.”

“We should base our activities on this assumption because today no one in the world can predict when this epidemic will be over. No one can tell how many days or weeks or months from now the epidemic will be over. So, we should go about our activities from a pessimistic perspective and with long-term planning, keeping in mind that this virus is here to stay.”

“This is the solution: We should abide by all health protocols, and don’t forget that it is necessary to work, produce and conduct activities while taking the required precautions.”

“Once, we would keep telling people to stay at home; now, we are telling people to stay home, too, if they have nothing essential to do outside. But we said they may leave home from a certain date onward to do necessary work and run essential errands while taking precautions.”

“We have urged people to stay out of home for as short a period of time as possible before returning home. That means we have moved from social distancing to smart social distancing.”

“When it comes to the coronavirus issue, the key solution is in people’s hands. As no treatment has been developed, yet, for the disease, and no specific medicine has been made for the virus, and no vaccine has been developed, the most important thing is to take care.”


Photo credit: Rouhani at Cabinet Meeting by Mehdi Marizad via Fars News Agency (CC BY 4.0)