COVID-19 and the Future of Iran

Austin Taylor, EMH2

September 21, 2020




Number of cases (blue), number of deaths (red) on a logarithmic scale, and number of deaths the previous ten days (dotted black).[1]


For the past seven to eight months, Iran has been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic came after a period of civil unrest preceding Iran’s election for its president and legislature. It is highly likely that Iran will continue to experience an increase in reported cases and deaths as a result of COVID-19. During this time, opposition groups such as the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) as well as the National Council for the Resistance of Iran (NCRI) will continue to challenge the Iranian government for its lack of response to the ongoing pandemic in order to gain more supporters against the regime. It is also likely that in the future, when the pandemic comes to an end, the citizens of Iran may begin to question the government and those who lead it, resulting in nationwide protests.


The COVID-19 virus is estimated to have made its way into Iran in mid-February before the major election of Iran’s legislature and president. During this time, the government tried to limit any information regarding the COVID-19 to be made public so as to not affect the outcome of the coming election. The election ended with conservatives loyal to the supreme leader winning all seats of the legislature and is regarded as the election with the lowest voter turnout in the country’s history. Nevertheless, the supreme leader of the country claimed that the low voter turnout was to be expected due to the rising fears of COVID-19.[2] Fast-forwarding seven months, it is apparent that the virus has hit the country hard. With the death toll rising rapidly, Iran like many other countries has begun the process of digging a multitude of graves to accommodate the rising numbers.[3] Thousands have been infected and have died as a result of the pandemic, but during the beginning of the pandemic in the country, the data was largely falsified. While the Ministry of Health and Medical Education had been reporting the overall cases (individuals who tested positive, died, and recovered), many experts had been arguing that the numbers were likely much higher than what was being reported by the government. It is largely believed that the actual number of overall cases in the country is being deliberately suppressed.[4] Currently, Iran has had 439,882 overall cases with 44,818 active and 395,064 closed cases. Iran is also reporting 369,842 recovered cases and 25,222 deaths.[5] Though this is what the government is reporting, it is likely that the total number of cases and deaths is much higher and will continue to grow as the pandemic continues to plague the country for many more months.


As COVID-19 began to spread throughout the world, many leaders began to implement actions such as imposing travel restrictions on hotspot countries such as China in order to mitigate any type of spread. Iran was among the last countries to implement any restrictions and was criticized for allowing flights from China to continue to come into the country after it was reported that cases in Iran were beginning to rise rapidly. Many journalists criticized the government for allowing flights to still take place and claimed that Iran valued making money over the safety of its fellow citizens.[6] Leadership in Iran has been criticized by many for its failure to recognize COVID-19 as a threat early when cases began to rise within the country and therefore did not act to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Many experts now argue that it is because of the lack of action by the government, and the stiff economic sanctions imposed by the United States, that Iran is now the country in the Middle East with the most cases of COVID-19. While many countries are currently racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine and also discussing the possibility of a potential second wave of COVID-19, international experts are predicting that Iran may very well be in the midst of being impacted by a third wave of the virus or will be in the coming months due to undercounting the number of those testing positive, and not testing enough of those who are at risk of being infected with the virus.[7]


While Iran has struggled to contain the spread of the virus throughout the country, opposition groups like PMOI/MEK and the NCRI have been taking advantage of the Iranian Government's lack of action and have been using the Government’s failures as a platform to challenge the Government. For the past several months PMOI/MEK have been reporting what is believed to be the actual number of positive cases and deaths of COVID-19 in the country. The numbers reported are always significantly higher than what is reported by the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education. As of September 26, 2020, MEK reported that there were over 110,000 deaths from COVID-19 across the entire country. It is reported that the reason for the high number of deaths has to do with citizens who are not following the proper protocols such as staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel to help mitigate the spread.[8]


While Iran has struggled to contain the spread of the virus throughout the country, opposition groups like PMOI/MEK and the NCRI have been taking advantage of the Iranian Government's lack of action and have been using the Government’s failures as a platform to challenge the Government. For the past several months PMOI/MEK has been reporting what is believed to be the actual number of positive cases and deaths of COVID-19 in the country. The numbers reported are always significantly higher than what is reported by the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education. As of September 26, 2020, MEK reported that there were over 110,000 deaths from COVID-19 across the entire country. It is reported that the reason for the high number of deaths has to do with citizens who are not following the proper protocols such as staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel to help mitigate the spread.hopes that the Iranian Government would give them to hospitals and to citizens who were in need of the supplies, there are reports that this did not exactly happen. The NCRI as well as MEK reported that instead of dispersing the supplies to where they were needed, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) began to collect and hoard the supplies. The IRGC was then reported to be selling the donated PPE and provisions at highly inflated prices as a way to help generate money for the already hurting economy.[11] Though many people within the country have argued that Iran has cared little about its citizens and more about money, Iran has continued to state the exact opposite and even exclaimed that the IRGC was not hoarding the supplies but instead were the ones finding them. It is highly likely for the foreseeable future that opposition groups like MEK and NCRI will continue to publicize the actions of the government as a means to incite future unrest in the country.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) works to detect, deter, and defeat terrorism around the world by analyzing worldwide data, searching for hidden information, developing knowledge, and providing solutions. The CTG Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team works to mitigate the negative impacts of emergencies, health threats, global hazards, and related terrorist activity. The EMH2 Team will continue to develop intelligence on the ongoing cases of COVID-19 and the predicted third wave within Iran from both government sources and opposition sources as new information is reported. CTG will continue to monitor and develop intelligence on any reported civil unrest within Iran. AOC’s should expect to for COVID-19 cases to increase within the country as the country is expected to experience a probable third wave.

________________________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] CoViD-19 IR by Micheletb licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

[2] Factbox: The outcome of Iran’s 2020 parliamentary elections, Atlantic Council, February 26, 2020, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/factbox-the-outcome-of-irans-2020-parliamentary-elections/

[3] Temporary graves in Iran during COVID-19 pandemic by Behzad Alipour licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

[4] Coronavirus: Iran cover-up of deaths revealed by data leak, BBC, August, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53598965

[5] Coronavirus cases in Iran, Worldmeter, September 2020, https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/iran/

[6] Iran’s Mahan Air Continues China Flights for Days After Ban, Upsetting Some Iranians, VOA News, February, 2020, https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/voa-news-iran/irans-mahan-air-continues-china-flights-days-after-ban-upsetting-some

[7] Iran anticipates ‘third wave’ as COVID-19 deaths pass 25,000, AlJazeera, September 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/24/iran-anticipates-third-wave-as-coronavirus-deaths-pass-25000

[8] Iran coronavirus update: Over 110,000 deaths, officials warn of “catastrophe” ahead, People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, September, 2020, https://english.mojahedin.org/i/iran-coronavirus-news-110000-deaths-20200926

[9] Covid-19 Equipment to Iran by IAEA Imagebank licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

[10] Dozens of Countries Send COVID-19 Aid to Iran, The United States Institute of Peace, April 2020, https://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2020/apr/07/dozens-countries-send-covid-19-aid-iran

[11] Corrupt and Criminal Iran Regime Hoards Medical Equipment Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, NCRI, March 2020, https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/society/corrupt-and-criminal-iran-regime-hoards-medical-equipment-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/


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