Iranian Coronavirus Patients Are Collateral Damage to US “Maximum Pressure”

Alireza Hashemi
Iran has been hit harder by the virus than any other country in the Middle East, the question is what led Iran to become the region’s epicenter of the COVID-19?
ParsiPolicy -  

Iran officially faces a nationwide humanitarian crisis caused by the COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has been described a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The latest figures by Iran’s Health Ministry show over 11,300 Iranians have been diagnosed with the virus and 514 have passed away. Iranian hospitals are also host to more than 16,000 coronavirus suspects.


Iran has been hit harder by the virus than any other country in the Middle East, the question is what led Iran to become the region’s epicenter of the COVID-19?


Some blame mismanagement and incompetence on the part of the Iranian government, lamenting it is not doing a great job in fighting the virus. People argue the administration was too slow to react to the outbreak and it then failed to take robust measures to keep the virus in check. Other believe that cannot be the case, as Iran have always been more functional compared to the monarchies in the region.


On the other hand, Iranian officials are blaming a shortage of medical equipment for the failure to curb the outbreak. The unilateral US sanctions, the officials claim, continue to hamper Iran’s capability to purchase pharmaceuticals or medical equipment from Europe and elsewhere.


Sanctions to Blame?

We are not ideally placed to judge how much official’s mismanagement contributed to the health crisis. But it appears the sanctions placed by the Donald Trump administration bears at least some of the blame for the spread of the virus in Iran.


Recently, the US president, who has described the sanctions as “the most biting ever imposed”, vowed his administration is ready to help Iranians. “If we can help the Iranians with this problem, we are certainly willing to do so... All they have to do is ask. We will have great professionals over there.”


But Ramin Fallah, a board member of Iran’s association of medical equipment, has said the sanctions have prohibited Iran from ordering the coronavirus test kits in China.  Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called the US sanctions a form of “medical terrorism”, making a plea on Twitter for countries and the World Health Organization to help Iran obtain test kits, face masks and other resources.


Separately, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has urged the international community to pressure the US to lift the sanctions and allow food and drug imports. These claims are not far from truth. The US sanctions have exempted humanitarian goods. But Iran can hardly handle the orders financially.


A few months ago, the Swiss government set up an exclusive payment system for Iran to enable the government to purchase humanitarian goods. But it appears this mechanism is too slow to help Iran curb the virus.


The US not only hinders the import of medical resources, but it indirectly encourages pharmaceutical companies not to sell drugs to Tehran.


Online US publication The Intercept revealed earlier this month that the pro-Israel Unite Against Nuclear Iran, a group with close ties to the US administration, has been recently pressuring drug firms to “end their Iran business”. The US sanctions might have also contributed to the early spread the disease in Iran.


Iran is currently highly dependent on China, one of the few countries willing and able to lend a helping hand as Tehran works to counter US sanctions. Some believe Iran could not easily cut off trade with China when the virus started to infect the country late 2019 due to its tight dependency.


Also, at another level, the sanctions have almost stopped Iranian oil and gas export crucial for government revenues, thus depriving Tehran of financial resources needed for curbing the virus. This has apparently forced the government to seek a $5 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund to fight coronavirus.


Collateral Damage

It seems safe to conclude that at least some of the severity of the outbreak is because of the Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure, aimed at weakening or overthrowing the Iranian government.


The sanctions present a peaceful solution when compared to war, but this does not make them less deadly. The goal is to coerce the adversary into compliance to put an end to the torturous scarcity of basic life’s necessities.


And this is killing many Iranians. Last year, the Human Rights Watch reported that the US sanctions have rendered the country unable to treat cancer patients, as they face skyrocketing drug prices and lack of access to key chemotherapy treatments.


Iranian news agencies have also reported that 81 people had died from a flu due to the sanctions on an imported vaccine last year. These humans are perhaps just “collateral damage” of the US operations, just like thousands of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere who fall victim of US drone strikes each year. 


The US is so fixated on its goal of bringing down the Iranian government that it doesn’t care if thousands of Iranians die as a result. In their eyes, these might be just some numbers.


The Trump administration also doesn’t care that the virus is a vital threat to humans and it does not believe the world should be united to curb the virus.  

Fortunately, Iranians have a strong sense of patriotic pride that has helped them pass hard times together.


They might defeat the coronavirus but they might not forget how Trump is doing an evil job in putting humans in harm’s way to advance his machiavellistic designs.