By Pooya Stone
The Iranian government is continuing flights to and from China, according to state-run media and state officials, despite the coronavirus outbreak in both countries that is causing most nations to suspend flights.
The state-run ISNA news agency reported on March 5 that the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC)-owned Mahan Airways was continuing flights to “at least to one Chinese city”, citing flight data about arrivals and departures from Shanghai Airport. While the state-run Etedal newspaper explained that flights are continuing because of China’s support for Iran at a time when the mullahs are seeing unprecedented sanctions.
Reza Jafarzadeh, the spokesperson of the Civil Aviation Organization, told ISNA that this was a cargo flight, not a passenger one and that “Mahan Airways cannot operate without any permission.”
But no one thought Mahan Airway had gone rogue, it was obvious that they were operating with permission from the government. The problem is that even cargo flights, if these are just cargo flights, still carry a risk of infection from the crew or even from the cargo itself.
Even some officials have condemned the continuation of these flights in the wake of the national health crisis.
MP Mehrdad Baooj Lahouti said: “If the Ministry of Health has the power to shut down the legislative branch, it also has the power to order the cancellation of flights to China. The Health Ministry and the entire system has not taken the coronavirus seriously.”
While MP Bahram Parsai said: “Profitability of a domestic Airline and wrong policies of the Civil Aviation Organization and also not taking seriously the warnings of the World Health Organization (WHO) is the cause of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran. There were no reports of this virus in neighboring countries and this means that it entered the country through flights and it is unclear when the virus came to Iran.”
The Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), wrote that the coronavirus outbreak in Iran has killed over 1,800 people.
Coronavirus has spread to all but one of Iran’s provinces, mainly because of the authorities’ initial inaction and secrecy over the disease.
Now, President Hassan Rouhani who said life would be back to normal by the end of February has had to acknowledge that the coronavirus is out of control. The authorities have even taken the unprecedented move of canceling Friday prayers in all provincial capitals because the virus outbreak is so serious.
Yet despite all this, the flights to China continue and the IRGC are hoarding facemasks and other hygiene products for officials or to be sold on the black market for a huge mark-up.