The U.S. State Department extended an olive branch to Iran Friday amid a report that more than 200 people in the country have reportedly been killed by the coronavirus, a figure six times higher than the officially released number.
“The United States stands with the people of Iran during the public health crisis caused by the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). The U.S. Government is prepared to assist the Iranian people in their response efforts,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “This offer of support to the Iranian people, which has been formally conveyed to Iran through the Government of Switzerland, underscores our ongoing commitment to address health crises and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Supporting the Iranian people is and will remain among our top priorities.”
Pompeo is also calling on Tehran to “cooperate fully and transparently with international aid and health organizations,” amid growing international concern that Tehran’s leadership is purporting to coverup the extent of the problem and lacks the resources necessary to contain the spread of the illness.
Iranian government officials have said that the death toll in the country is 34. But a report by BBC Persia, citing sources in the country’s health system, claims that number is at least 210, with the vast portion of the victims residing in the capital Tehran and the holy city of Qom, which is where the first case was recorded last week.
Among those known to have contracted Covid-19 – according to state media – include Masoumeh Ebtekar, the highest-ranking woman in the Iranian government and the vice president for women and family affairs who also served as the spokesperson for the Iranian students who seized U.S. hostages in 1979, and two members of parliament, including the deputy health minister.
Modest measures have been taken to squash further spread – Friday prayers were called off in the capital and 22 other cities, and schools and universities have been shuttered.
While Tehran has vowed that they are being transparent in the handling of the virus, skepticism pervades.
“(Coronavirus) came unseen and undetected into Iran, so the extent of infection may be broader than what we may be seeing,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, stated Thursday.