Iranian coronavirus: rare voices after the epidemic speak of the fall of the government and flooded hospitals


ISTANBUL – Iran was struck by one of the most serious coronavirus outbreaks in the world, but the voices of Iranians affected by the pandemic have remained largely unknown outside the country’s borders. The extent of their suffering has been obscured by often optimistic stories about the survivors in Iranian official media and by an impenetrable government that many suspects underestimate.

However, aided by Iranian hospital records obtained by the Washington Post, journalists were able to contact the survivors of Covid-19 and the families of the victims. They told stories of brave medical workers, overworked hospitals and a government that had been far too slow to sound the alarm.

“Awareness was far too late,” said a young architecture student in hospital. “Many people were already infected. “

According to the government’s health ministry, nearly 70,000 Iranians have tested positive for the virus and more than 4,000 people have died, including some of the most prominent Iranian officials. The human toll has gone largely unnoticed in Western countries absorbed by the wave of deaths in places like Italy, Spain and the United States.

The medical records of 56 hospitals in Tehran contain detailed information on thousands of coronavirus cases between the end of February, when Iran reported its first infection, and mid-March. Hospitals – which account for about a quarter of the city’s 200 or so medical facilities admitting cases linked to the virus – tested at least 5,500 patients during this period. Just under half of the tests were positive, while many more tests appeared to be pending.

Beyond the numbers, the files provide a glimpse of a nation shaken by its latest terrible trial, seized with anxiety and confusion. Some interviewees were not even aware that hospital records showed that their loved ones had tested positive for the coronavirus.

In an interview, a farmer said that he had taken his sick father to a hospital in Tehran and that he had been horrified by the chaos they had seen inside.

An infected Iranian student said she was concerned that she had transmitted the coronavirus to her already sick father.

A widow recalled that the Iranian economy had already left her husband hopeless and no longer wanted to take care of him long before the virus killed his life.

At the hospital, she said, “We have seen many families lose loved ones.”

The following reports have been edited for clarity and have been provided on condition of partial or full anonymity due to the sensitivity of the discussions on public affairs in Iran.

An unemployed teacher in Tehran, 23, said five doctors diagnosed him with influenza before it tested positive for coronavirus.

I was infected in Mashhad in late February. We would not have traveled to other cities if we had known that the risk was so high. There was not enough awareness at the time. Now it is, but I think it’s too late.

I went to see five different doctors and they all said it was the flu. Finally, I was hospitalized at Loghman Hospital with severe respiratory symptoms. Then I was transferred to Modarres Hospital, where the medical team was incredible. Although they are very busy, they have shown great care and attention. The medical team at both hospitals was really attentive. But it wasn’t so crowded at the time.

I was in the ICU for five days with my mother. She had chest pain which they claimed was indicative of the virus. It took six days for the test results to be published. Hers was negative but mine was positive. I live with my mother in a 40 square meter apartment. I had a lot of contact with my family and friends before the hospitalization. But nobody got it for me.

I was in a wheelchair for a week. I couldn’t even take a step.

Since the day I was released, I have only left the house once, and it was to go to the hospital. I was told that I would carry the virus for 14 days after recovery. We don’t even let my sister enter the house. Twenty-four days have passed, but I still have kidney pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Walking and daily tasks tire me.

I don’t know much about life outside. I just hear the media saying that they are taking this seriously now, even though I think it is too late.

A 50-year-old farmer from a village outside Tehran took his elderly father to a hospital in the capital after struggling to breathe. Frightened by what they saw at the hospital, they did not stay. The son did not know that the hospital tests showed that his father had tested positive.

Our village has a hundred families. My father had respiratory symptoms in February, but he still suffers from lung and heart problems. We took him to Tehran. They wanted to hospitalize him, but with the atmosphere I saw, I didn’t allow that.

The nurses panicked. One of them was shouting “Corona, Corona”, pointing to my father. The way they disinfected the beds was violent and no one explained to me what was going on. I decided to take him home. Thank goodness he’s fine now.

No one is infected in our village. We had trouble getting permission from the governor to close our roads. Finally, today we have finished blocking the last road that was open.

Everything that happened last week should have been done 40 days ago, two months ago. It’s too late. Maybe it was because of [the anniversary of Iran’s revolution], maybe because of the election [both in February]. No one knows why they waited so long to take these steps.

Aylin, a 20-year-old architecture student from Tehran, said her father, a construction supervisor, was discharged prematurely from the hospital due to overcrowding.

My father became corona and was released from the hospital at the start of Nowruz, [the Iranian new year last month]. I haven’t seen him for two months now. He is under a lot of pressure, both physically and psychologically. When they decided to release him, he still had symptoms. He has kidney failure, so he cannot be quarantined at home because he needs kidney dialysis every few days.

He shouldn’t have been released at all, but they said they had no room for him. It’s very hard for him.

We do not know how he got infected. It could have come from me. Around mid-February, I started to have a sore throat, and then I was sick for two weeks. I went to three doctors and they couldn’t diagnose me – the third doctor said it was H1N1 [influenza]. Because he goes to the dialysis hospital regularly, he could have gotten it from someone there. I did not visit her so as not to endanger my mother, who I live with and who has other illnesses.

Some hospitals have had management problems – releasing people with their consent when they still needed medical care. Others worked very hard and wholeheartedly.

Awareness was far too late and many people were already infected. Even now, they resist the announcement of quarantine.

Maedah, 50, said her 51-year-old husband Alireza went to the hospital when he developed respiratory problems in late February. He died two days later.

He had no fever. He had no symptoms of a cold. He only had short breaths. After taking him to the hospital, his fever started. His kidneys stopped working and he underwent dialysis. My husband died from a heart attack, but he could have received better medical care without the burden of corona patients and the chaos in the hospital.

I don’t think the real statistics are published, mainly because they don’t want people to panic. But I think people need to know the real statistics. When my husband went to Loghman Hospital, we saw many families lose a dear one. Developed countries are treating their patients better, although many people around the world are currently victims of this virus.

Alireza was born in Tehran and has run a small store for years. In 2016, with the economic recession in Iran, he went bankrupt and was unable to get back on his feet. He has become very depressed and hopeless for life in the past four years and has not cared at all for himself. He loved having friends and relatives and was very generous, but after bankruptcy he felt lonely. He did not feel his friends, family, or government support him.

We have two children, a 17 year old son and an 18 year old daughter. My son is an introvert and more patient than my daughter. She had a special bond with her father and cries and cries all the time these days. She is very angry and blames me and my aunt for taking her father to the hospital.

I loved my husband and I am still shocked by his death. He was fine one day and was short of breath and died within 48 hours. I still expect it to come in anytime.

Bennett reported from Washington.


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