• Iran now has 92 coronavirus deaths and 586 new confirmed cases on Wednesday
  • 54,000 prisoners are set to temporarily go free but it is unclear whether British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will be among those in line for release
  • The country faces rising criticism for its alleged mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis as more government leaders test positive of the novel coronavirus

The Iranian government has been pushed to deploy thousands of health providers along with the temporary release of 54,000 prisoners as state media reported on Wednesday that there are 586 new coronavirus cases in the country.

According to CNN, Tehran’s drastic moves came following reports from other Middle Eastern countries that linked new COVID-19 cases to Iran’s famed Qom city, where tourists gather to visit holy sites.

In the midst of Iran’s decision to temporarily set thousands of prisoners free, British-Iranian mother and charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case remains unanswered. It is unclear whether she will also be allowed to post bail. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been imprisoned since 2016, faces espionage charges.

Aside from allowing thousands of prisoners to post bail and experience liberty for a certain period, the Majlis, or Iranian parliament, has also been suspended indefinitely, Business Insider reported.

The seemingly desperate moves have raised concerns about the true extent of the COVID-19 situation in the country, considering that 23 MPs have tested positive of the coronavirus and several key leadership officers have contracted the disease.

The Iranian government has been widely criticized for its alleged concealment of real-time death and infection figures in the country. Supreme Leader Aytollah Khamenei insisted at a tree-planting event on Tuesday that the allegations were untrue.

“Our officials have reported with sincerity and transparency since day one,” Khamenei said, according to BBC. He also ordered government departments to assist the health ministry in any way possible.

State media reported on Wednesday that the official COVID-19 infection toll now stands at 2,922 and deaths at 92. However, hospital sources told BBC Persian last week that at least 210 people already succumbed to the coronavirus in Iran.

The anonymous sources further revealed that most of the deceased are from Tehran, the capital city, as well as Qom. At the time of the revelation, the Iranian health ministry said the death toll was at 34, raising questions about the real numbers behind Iran’s coronavirus situation.

During a congressional committee last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also reveled that the White House offered assistance to Tehran. He said the Iranian government’s “willingness to share information” was not apparent.

In an op-ed for POLITICO, associate professor of psychiatry, global health and history at the George Washington University Amir A. Afkhami pointed out that Tehran’s refusal to quarantine high-risk sites such as Qom earlier may have played a role in the country’s current coronavirus crisis.

Afkhami added that sanctions against the country may have also contributed in the Iranian government’s seemingly chaotic handling of the health emergency.