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Tehran Covid Burials Cast Doubt On Government's Official Numbers

In a report presented to Tehran city council Tuesday, Saeed Khal, director-general of Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery said that over 41,500 victims of Covid-19 had been buried in the graveyard.

With Tehran’s daytime 8.7-million population only 10 percent of the country’s 84 million, this would put Covid deaths at 40 percent of the total health ministry nationwide figure of around 108,000.

The discrepancy seems to result from the ministry’s figure relying on positive Covid test results, whereas the cemetery’s figure is based on death certificates issued by doctors or other hospital medical staff that can also be based on tests or other clinical evidence.

The discrepancy is unlikely to arise from higher infections in Tehran, despite its greater population density than Iran as a whole. Cities in many other provinces − including Khuzestan in the south west, Khorasan-e Razavi in the north east, and Esfahan in central Iran − are coded red (critical) or orange (very high risk) due to the pandemic’s severity.

Khal said that in recent days − with daily deaths in the country reported at around 650 − Covid burials were sometimes half of the daily 400 burials at Behesht-e Zahra, the largest but not the only cemetery in Tehran. If Tehran can be taken as a rough sample of other areas, it means that daily deaths in Iran would be closer to 2,000.

An official of Esfahan Medical Sciences University, Behruz Kalidari, put the number of Covid deaths at the university's hospitals in Esfahan province, which has a population of over 5.1 million, at 14,000. Kalidari told a press conference that only 8,500 of these deaths had been confirmed as Covid by testing, while 5,500 of deceased patients had tested negative despite showing Covid symptoms.

The health ministry stopped providing provincial breakdowns for Covid-19 deaths and infections a few weeks after it announced two confirmed Covid deaths in Qom on February 22, 2020.

Criteria for counting Covid deaths vary from country to country, and even within countries. Efficiency in compiling statistics also varies. According to John Hopkins university, Iraq has reported 20.830 deaths, with only 1.9 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Iran has now fully vaccinated 9.6 percent.

Media and local officials in Iran have long said health ministry figures based on PCR test results underplay the extent of the pandemic, and have put the actual number of deaths at 2.5 to three times higher. One Iranian epidemiologist recently claimed the death toll might be seven times the ministry's figures, at least in some areas.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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