Man arrested for filming piles of bodies
WARNING: Graphic images
An Iranian man who allegedly filmed piles of stacked corpses inside a morgue, accusing the regime of covering up the true number of coronavirus deaths, has been arrested for publishing "false or unauthorised images" about the virus.
The video, which was filmed on March 2 and has since gone viral on social media, showed bodies laid out in a morgue at a cemetery in Qom, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.
Around 40 or 50 body bags can be seen in the video lined up across the floor and on trolleys. The victims are awaiting burial after they had been washed.
"Look at those stacked corpses," the man in the video said in Farsi, according to a translation by Al Arabiya English.
"As you can see, there are many corpses of coronavirus victims. It has been this way for six days because of the lack of the ability to perform a proper burial. (The problem is) bigger than what the Iranian authorities and the media are saying. Dozens are dying every day in the city."
Iranian state media reported that the person who allegedly filmed and released the footage was subsequently arrested. A deputy prosecutor in Qom told Fars News the publication of false or unauthorised images about the virus was prohibited.
Iran has emerged as the Middle Eastern epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, but the Islamic Republic has been accused of under-reporting the true number of cases.
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Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has questioned the statistics, saying the death-to-reported cases ratio suggested the actual case numbers of coronavirus in Iran were "materially understated".
The official number of infected in Iran stands at 2922 and the official death toll is 92 as of Wednesday, making it the fourth worst hit after China, South Korea and Italy.
Globally, more than 95,000 people have been infected and 3254 killed since the start of the outbreak in late December.
The BBC, citing hospital sources, said on Friday that the true death toll in Iran was at least 210. When the official death toll stood at 77, medical experts told The New York Times that based on the expected death rate, it suggested the total number of infected was in excess of 4000.
"It is clear that the Iranian health system is managing a large number of cases which have developed over a short period of time and as a result, reporting of cases may have been delayed or underestimated," Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement yesterday.
Unusually, the virus has infected a large number of Iran's leaders. A key adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 71-year-old Mohammad Mirmohammadi, died on Monday.
As of Tuesday, 8 per cent of Iran's parliament had contracted the virus - 23 out of 290 members - plus at least seven government officials, including Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, CNN reported.
Several of Australia's 50 confirmed cases had recently returned from Iran, including a Gold Coast beauty salon worker and a Tasmanian man who went on a shopping trip to Woolworths after being told to self-quarantine.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is advising Australians not to travel to Iran. "There is widespread community transmission of coronavirus in Iran," DFAT says.
"There have been many deaths. The health care system will likely struggle to cope with a large outbreak. Airlines are reducing or stopping flights into and out of Iran. Medical evacuation is not likely to be possible. If you're in Iran, leave while commercial options are available. Some countries have put in place restrictions on travellers coming out of Iran."
People returning from Iran to Australia are required to self-isolate for 14 days from the time they left the country. The Australian Embassy remains open but family members have been ordered to leave the country.
Dr Murphy told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Wednesday that the Health Department was considering advising members of the Iranian community to avoid local Iranian New Year Celebrations later this month.
"The Iranian New Year's celebrations are coming up in a few weeks (on March 20) - we are considering making a recommendation to that community because of its high risk," Dr Murphy said.
- With AAP