Saturday, 08 August, 2020

Iran refutes BBC Persian’s ‘politically-motivated’ claim about its COVID-19 toll

The Iranian Health Ministry has rejected BBC Persian’s allegations about the “real” number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Iran, advising the British Broadcasting Corporation to work instead on the questionable COVID-19 toll reported by the UK government.

In comments on Saturday, Iran’s Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima-Sadat Lari expressed regret that BBC Persian has tried to create ambiguity by quoting “unnamed” sources, using phrases like “it seems”, and applying an unscientific methodology.

“Iran decisively pursues the scientific path approved by the World Health Organization [in reporting the COVID-19 statistics],” she clarified.

She also strongly recommended that “individuals and media outlets refrain from commenting on scientific issues with political motivations.”

Her comments came after BBC Persian cited a list of medical data it claims to have received from “an unnamed source working with Iran’s government”, and alleged that the real number of COVID-19 cases in Iran was more than 450,000 and the tally stood at 42,000 by July 21.

This comes as the official number of COVID-19 cases reported by the Health Ministry on July 21 was 278,827 and the death toll was 14,634 (almost one-third of the figure cited by BBC).

“Had we sought to conceal the truth, we could act like many countries including Europeans and report the first cases several weeks later, or hide the second wave of the outbreak as many countries did because of political and often economic reservations. However, we acted in a totally transparent way,” Lari said.

She noted that Iran has been as transparent as possible in reporting the real aspects of the pandemic, and was one of the first countries in the world to announce its first coronavirus cases despite being one of the last countries in the northern hemisphere to be affected by the virus.

Also in recent weeks, she said, Iran has declared its being affected by the second wave of the outbreak earlier than many other countries without any political or economic consideration.

She finally advised British media to focus instead on tens of reports released so far on the ambiguities in the UK government’s COVID-19 figures, particularly the real death toll in the country’s care homes.

Lari also called on BBC to cover the official statistics of certain regional countries which “have not even reported 10 percent of their COVID-19 deaths.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic in the UK, much criticism has been directed at the British government for having been slow to realize that coronavirus was spreading unchecked in care homes.

A scathing parliamentary report released earlier this week accused the government of a host of leadership, accountability and transparency failings, saying that care homes in England and their elderly residents were effectively “thrown to the wolves” during the coronavirus crisis.

Almost 20,000 care home residents died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus between March 2 and June 12, according to official figures.

The cross-party committee of MPs said the crisis revealed the “tragic impact” of delays by successive governments to reform the social care sector, which has been treated as the NHS’s poor relation, and subject to years of underfunding.

This was “compounded by the government’s “inconsistent and at times negligent approach to giving the sector the support it needed”, they added.

The number of first-time outbreaks in care homes in England peaked at 1,009 in early April and by mid-May about 5,900 homes, or 38 per cent of the total, had reported at least one outbreak, the report found.

The committee said the government had “squandered” the opportunity to build up supplies of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves in January and February, and changed the guidance on PPE in care homes 40 times — “leading to confusion”, the Financial Times reports.

A “lack of transparency” around the availability and supply of PPE, and a tendency for government to “over-promise and under deliver”, exacerbated problems and raises questions about the government’s ability to ensure the country has a 90-day PPE stockpile.

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