Iran has far more coronavirus cases than it's letting on

If COVID-19 is so rare—fewer than 400 cases had been reported in Iran by the day she announced her diagnosis—what are the chances that one of the afflicted would be a famous politician? Soon we learned of three other senior officials who not only contracted the virus but were killed by it: Mohammad Mirmohammadi, a member of a senior advisory council to Iran’s supreme leader, and Hossein Sheikholeslam and Hadi Khosrowshahi, both former high-level diplomats. Mohammad Sadr, another member of the council, announced his infection last week, as did Ebtekar’s fellow cabinet member Reza Rahmani. Recently, the speaker of parliament said 23 of his fellow members of parliament had tested positive. Two of them, Mohammad Ali Ramezani (February 29) and Fatemeh Rehber (March 7), have died.

That’s a lot of tainted apples, statistically speaking. Why would Iran lie? On February 21, Iran conducted the latest in a series of sham elections in which only government-selected candidates could run for office. To show disapproval, many Iranians refuse to vote, and as participation has dropped, the appearance of electoral legitimacy has dropped as well. Iran’s government told its people that the United States had hyped COVID-19 to suppress turnout, and Tehran vowed to punish anyone spreading rumors about a serious epidemic. Forty-three percent of Iranians voted, unaware that the outbreak had already begun. Quick action could have allowed quarantines to be put in place. Instead Iran greased its own path toward the most catastrophic outbreak in modern history.

Remember that the official number of cases is 6,566. Yet a variety of other indicators suggest that far more people in Iran have become infected…