World

Iran parliamentary report says official COVID-19 death toll should be doubted

The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus pandemic is likely nearly double the officially reported figures, due to undercounting and because not everyone with breathing problems has been tested for the virus, a parliament report said.

Lawmaker alleges some coronavirus deaths are being attributed to other causes

The Iranian government, led by President Hassan Rouhani, has not officially responded to a parliamentary report alleging a significant undercount of coronavirus cases and deaths. (Iranian Presidential Website/Reuters)

The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus pandemic is likely nearly double the officially reported figures, due to undercounting and because not everyone with breathing problems has been tested for the virus, a parliamentary report said.

Iranian health officials offered no comment on the report, released Tuesday, which represents the highest-level charge yet from within the Islamic Republic's government that its coronavirus statistics are questionable, something long suspected by international experts.

Iran put the death toll on Wednesday at 4,777, out of 76,389 confirmed cases of the virus, which still makes it the worst outbreak in the Middle East by far.

The report comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani continues to push for a slow reopening of the country's economy, which remains targeted by crushing U.S. sanctions. Some observers fear that if the government's own figures offered to the World Health Organization are wrong, encouraging people to return to work prematurely could spark a second wave of infections.

"In order to have more compatibility between protocol and estimated statistics, it is necessary to increase laboratory and testing capabilities in the country," the parliamentary report said.

"Needless to say that through increasing the capacities, diagnosis of disease will be more possible and spread of the disease will be more limited."

The 46-page report by Iran's parliament research centre, published online, carries the weight of being written by nonpartisan experts within the country.

Already, hard-liners have seized on Rouhani's handling of the pandemic to criticize him and his administration, which is held in poor regard after his 2015 nuclear deal with world powers collapsed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the accord.

Testing, quarantine issues alleged

Perhaps the most explosive charge in what appeared to be an otherwise routine parliamentary report was a footnote on page 6.

It said Health Ministry death toll figures counted only those people who died in hospitals and had gotten positive test results for the virus. This disregarded all coronavirus victims who died in their homes.

The report also said that aggressive testing, something experts have seized upon as necessary in the pandemic, has not been done in Iran — meaning other cases likely have been missed. It suggested the true death toll in Iran is probably could be 80 per cent higher than figures now given, or nearly double.

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CUT? As far as the positive cases are involved, and given the undertesting, the number of people infected is probably "eight to 10 times" higher than the reported figures, the report said.

If correct, the report's worst-case figures would put Iran's death toll at more than 8,500, with about 760,000 total cases. That would make Iran the country with the highest number of infections in the world.

The U.S. has more than 600,000 confirmed cases, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, though experts believe that number likely is larger as well.

Suspicions about Iranian figures

Some international experts have long been skeptical of Iran's numbers, as its mortality was higher than that of other nations. While other countries have also seen cases spike, Iran's reported numbers so far have offered a gradual slope.

The report also accused authorities of not providing its authors with "detailed figures" about the disease. It also warned that more than 30,000 people could die if strict quarantine measures aren't taken.

Last week, lawmaker Reza Shiran, from the northeastern holy city of Mashhad, said that there had "been no correct reporting on the death toll." He alleged official reports instead labelled deaths as coming from an "acute respiratory syndrome."

Deputy Health Minister Ali Reza Raisi on Wednesday acknowledged that the "limits of testing" faced by Iran means it doesn't have accurate figures of all those infected.

"The real figures are more than the official statistics, but it is not correct to multiply official figures by two or three," he said, without elaborating or directly addressing the parliament report.

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