'At least' 300 COVID-19 deaths in Iranian Kurdistan; more than double reported by Tehran: Report

A local human rights watchdog on Saturday announced that 20 additional people from Kurdish provinces of Iran, an area known by Kurds as Rojhilat, had recently died from the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A local human rights watchdog on Saturday announced that 20 additional people from Kurdish provinces of Iran, an area known by Kurds as Rojhilat, had recently died from the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The latest figures bring the total number of deaths in these areas to “at least” 300, according to data compiled by the Hengaw organization, more than double the official numbers released by Tehran.

The group's statement offered a thorough breakdown of casualties by region, namely in the provinces of Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Ilam, and West Azerbaijan. These four provinces add up to about 9 percent of Iran’s total population.

Locals have also told Kurdistan 24 that many from the Kurdish population across Rojhilat have prevented the situation from getting worse by following anti-coronavirus measures and health instructions of the neighboring Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Related Article: Kurdistan, Iraq extend and expand curfews as coronavirus deaths climb 

Residents add that that they keep updated on outbreaks through media that originates in the Kurdistan Region instead of less reliable reporting from inside Iran. 

Videos obtained by Kurdistan 24 show downtown markets almost completely shut down. 

As reported in Saturday's statement, there have been a total of 108 deaths Rojhilat’s Kurdistan province: 77 in West Azerbaijan, 68 in Kermashan, and 47 in Ilam. About two-thirds of the deceased are men and the rest are women. The group said it did not have details about how many locals have contracted the virus in total.

The numbers add up to over double those reported by official health authorities in Tehran, according to Hengaw, adding that the organization “sees it as its duty to obtain information from trustworthy sources and will publish the latest number of deaths from COVID-19 in Kurdistan daily.”

Kurdistan province’s city of Saqqez is the site of the highest death count in Rojhilat, with as many as 56 fatalities.

The city is also the site of a mass jailbreak that occurred on Friday following clashes with the security guards inside as prisoners expressed concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, according to a Hengaw report accompanied by a video that appeared to show people fleeing the facility. The group claimed that close to 70 prisoners had fled and Iranian authorities later reported that they had caught 13 them and had put Saqqez under lockdown to locate the rest.

The incident comes as the number of coronavirus deaths in prisons continues to grow around the world. According to Hengaw, three inmates at the Urmia Detention Center have died from the disease, the latest being a female who succumbed to the virus on Thursday.

In the same facility on Saturday, over 200 women went on a hunger strike to protest the lack of proper medical care for those already infected, the rights watchdog wrote, citing a prisoner who said the prisoners had demanded furloughs from the authorities to prevent more infections.

The Iranian judiciary has said it granted temporary leave for 80,000 detainees amid the coronavirus.

As the number of cases and deaths continues to increase steadily across Iran, authorities seem unable to limit its further spread, with government spokesman Ali Rabei warning that the country could face a second wave of the disease.

The national health ministry said on Saturday that the number of COVID-19 patients had crossed 35,000, out of which about 12,000 have recovered and over 2,500 have died, but there are strong indications that Tehran is underreporting national infection and fatality rates.

Chinese authorities first reported the disease in late 2019. Iran continued to allow travel and trade with China for months even as risks were growing by the day, likely leading at least in part to the Middle Eastern nation's high levels of infection.

It quickly spread throughout the country and beyond its borders, causing it to become the regional epicenter for the disease, responsible for a majority of early infections in multiple regional states, including Iraq.

Read More: From Iran, coronavirus spreads to five regional states

More than 664,000 people are confirmed to have contracted the virus in over 180 countries worldwide, according to data compiled by WHO. Over 30,000 have died, as per official numbers reported by governments around the world, though the rate could be dramatically higher due to insufficient testing capabilities or underreporting. 

Editing by John J. Catherine