TEHRAN: The death toll in Iran from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) 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.
Iranian health officials offered no comment on the report, released on Tuesday, which represents the highest-level charge yet from within the country of its figures being questionable, something long suspected by international experts.
Iran on Wednesday put the death toll at 4,777, out of 76,389 confirmed cases of the virus — still making it the Middle East’s worst outbreak 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 US sanctions. If its own figures offered to the World Health Organization are wrong, it adds to fears by some that encouraging people to return to work will 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 report said.
“Needless to say that through increasing the capacities, diagnosis of disease will be more possible and the spread of the disease will be more limited.”
The 46-page report by Iran’s parliament research center, published online, carries the weight of being written by nonpartisan experts within the country.
The explosive charge was merely a footnote on page 6 in what appeared to be an otherwise routine report.
It said Health Ministry death toll figures counted only those who died in hospitals and had gotten positive test results for the virus. That 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 80 percent higher than figures now given, or nearly double.
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 potential as high over 8,500, with some 760,000 total cases. That would catapult Iran to the country with the highest number of infections in the world.
International experts long have suggested they suspected Iran’s numbers, as its mortality was higher than other nations. While other countries also have 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” over the disease. It also warned that more than 30,000 people could die if strict quarantine measures are not taken.
Deputy Health Minister Ali Reza Raisi on Wednesday acknowledged that the “limits of testing” faced by Iran mean it does not 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.