Pandemics Ravaged Iran Long Before the Coronavirus

But Instead of Learning From the Past, Tehran Is Stuck There

A medical team sprays disinfectant outside Imam Reza's holy shrine in Mashhad, Iran, February 2020 West Asia News Agency / Reuters

As the novel coronavirus sweeps Iran, the government’s response has been opaque and remarkably deficient, favoring political and religious priorities over pragmatic prevention policies. When the virus began to spread in Wuhan, China, other countries took stock of their readiness against the disease. Iran did not prepare. Instead, it continued to export facemasks to China, causing a national shortage when its own hospitals needed masks in February. Iran also refused to restrict travelers from China, its largest trading partner, in all likelihood to avoid any deleterious impact on its already spiraling economy, which has been battered by U.S. sanctions.

Just a month before the country’s first coronavirus cases were reported, Iran’s military had mistakenly downed a Ukrainian jetliner. The handling of the crisis that ensued became an embarrassing display of ineptitude on the part of the country’s leadership. Facing a crisis in public trust after

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