Coronavirus concerns for Iranian Christians at home and in prison

Coronavirus concerns for Iranian Christians at home and in prison

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There are growing concerns in Iran about the potential for coronavirus to spread quickly within Iran’s overcrowded prisons, where at least 17 Christians are currently incarcerated as a result of the peaceful practice of their faith.

There have already been reports of infections in at least three prisons within the country.

IranWire reported that a Gonabadi dervish – another oppressed religious minority – said that he and eight other political prisoners had been taken to a tiny cell to make room for a quarantine area.

This comes as the coronavirus crisis continues to deepen in Iran, with Iran’s deputy health minister and an MP among the high-profile figures to have been infected.

Article18 reported yesterday on its Persian-language site that after the price of face-masks shot up, several Christian groups took it upon themselves to buy and distribute them to low-income families. 

Article18 was also informed that a number of house-church meetings had been cancelled and that much attention is being paid to hygiene standards – for example through compulsory use of hand-gels – even in groups within cities that have not yet reported any instances of the virus.

The Ministry of Health has promised to ensure masks are available to all those in infected areas, such as the conservative religious city of Qom, which is at the centre of Iran’s outbreak.

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But the Iranian government has been criticised for being slow to react and accused of a cover-up.

The MP for the southern city of Shiraz, Bahram Parsaei, said warnings from the World Health Organization “were not taken seriously” and that “negligence was very clear”, noting how one Iranian airline had continued operating flights to China.

Meanwhile it is only in the past few days that Iranian officials admitted the presence of coronavirus in Iran, despite news of the outbreak first emerging over two weeks ago.

Iranians have released videos on social media, highlighting the lack of medical facilities available in Iran to deal with the spread of the crisis, which is now known to have infected a number of health professionals.

Another MP, Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani, noted that health professionals had not being provided with the required protective clothing.

The coronavirus, which first emerged in the city of Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, has now spread to 34 countries around the world.

According to the latest World Health Organization figures, more than 80,000 people have been infected worldwide, and 2,700 people have died.

Iran has reported 61 confirmed cases, and 12 deaths.

The virus is also known to have been transmitted by travellers to Iran to several other countries, including Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain and Canada, while six neighbouring countries have closed their borders with Iran.

The coronavirus is believed to be transmitted through close person-to-person contact. Although most people only develop mild flu-like symptoms, in some cases, particularly in vulnerable groups such as the elderly and infirm, it can develop into pneumonia, kidney failure and even death.

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