Data leak reveals Iran covered up Covid-19 deaths

Data leak reveals Iran covered up Covid-19 deaths

Iran has covered up the true number of deaths from Covid-19 a BBC Persian service investigation has found. The number of actual deaths is nearly triple what the Iranian government is claiming. 

The government’s own records appear to show almost 42,000 people died with Covid-19 symptoms up to 20 July, versus 14.405 reported by its health ministry. 

The number of those infected is also almost double its official figure: 452,024 as opposed to 278,827.

Iran has been one of the worst-hit countries outside of China

In the last few weeks, it has suffered a second steep rise in the number of cases. 

Iran recorded its first Covid-19 death on 22 January, according to lists and medical records that were passed on to the BBC. This was almost a month before the first official case of coronavirus was reported there. 

Since the outbreak in Iran, many have doubted the official numbers. 

There have been irregularities in data between national and regional levels, which some local authorities have spoken out about and statisticians have tried to give alternative estimates. 

A level of undercounting, largely due to testing capacity, is seen across the world, but information leaked to the BBC reveals Iranian authorities have reported lower daily numbers despite having a record of all deaths – suggesting they were deliberately suppressed. 


The data was leaked to the BBC by an anonymous source. It includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, data and length of periods spent in hospital and underlying conditions. 

The details on lists correspond to those of some living and deceased patients already known to the BBC. 

The source says they shared the data with the BBC to “shed light on truth” and to end “political games” over the pandemic. 


The capital of Tehran has the highest number of deaths with 8,120 people who died with Covid-19 or symptoms similar to it. 

The city of Qom – the initial epicentre in Iran – is the worst-hit proportionally, with 1,419 deaths – that is one Covid-19 death for every 1,000 people. 

Of the deaths – 1,918 were non-Iranian nationals. This indicates a disproportionate number of deaths amongst migrants and refugees who are mostly from Afghanistan. 

The overall trend of cases and deaths in the leaked data is similar to official reports but different in size.

The initial rise in deaths is far steeper than Health Ministry figures and by mid-March, it was five times the official figure. 

Lockdown measures were imposed over the third week of March and there was a corresponding decline in cases and deaths. 

But when the government started to relax restrictions, the cases and deaths began to rise again after late-May. 

When the first recorded death on the leaked list occurred on 22 January (a month before the first official case was announced) Iran’s health ministry officials were adamant in acknowledging not a single case of the virus was in the country, despite reports by journalists inside Iran and warnings from medical professionals. 

In the 28 days until the first official acknowledgement on 19 February, 52 people had already died. 



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