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Mahan-gate: How the airline may have assisted Iran’s Covid-19 outbreak

Written By | Mar 28, 2020
Covid-19, Iran, China, flights

FRANCE: Revolutionary Guard’s Mahan Airlines had a huge responsibility on the spread of the Covid-19 among Iranian society, and people are aware of that. Flights to and from China did not stop even when the disease was already a big issue and attracted international attention. Now, the nation is suffering the worst catastrophe in the last centuries.

People are so convinced of this, that they smiled ironically when the Minister of Health Iraj Harirchi said that the first officially confirmed positive case of Coronavirus corresponded to a Qom merchant who had arrived in Iran on an indirect flight.

The continuation of Mahan’s flights to China, especially direct routes to Wuhan, pushed the society into a crisis and raised the demand for cancellation of the flights.

Read Also: The high cost vs. the value of life during the Covid-19 pandemic

Subsequently, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Organization announced that the flights to China would be suspended by the government enactment.

The government spokesman Ali Rabiei was supposed to report the enactment, however, the document has not been found or provided to journalists.  Now, there is a strong suspicion that such a document never existed.

“The Mahan airline maintained the flights to China in response to the strong support that the country gave to Iran during the period of economic sanctions and also to generate revenues for the company under these circumstances. Those same flights were the main vector of the virus in our society”, said MP Mehrdad Lahooti and he added: “But the most relevant issue that all this revealed is that the Ministry of Health and the entire country did not take the spread of the Covid-19 seriously”.
Revolutionary Guard claims flights were to bring medical equipment to Iran

The Revolutionary Guards, who control Mahan Airlines, claim that the flights were intended to bring medical equipment and masks but nobody believes it.

They decided to continue with the air route. On February 2, Hamid Arabnejad, CEO of Mahan, held a meeting with the Chinese ambassador Chang Hua in Teheran, where they agreed to continue with the cooperation between both countries, as the ambassador communicated via Twitter.

The agreement occurred just two days after the Iranian Minister of Health announced that all the flights between Iran and China should be halted to counter the outbreak of the Coronavirus in the country.

Read Also: US AFRICOM ready, DoD holds troops as COVID-19 threatens 1.3 billion

The decision followed both his own suggestion and the order sent by First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri. However, Mahan Airlines not only continued with the direct flights but also transported Chinese passengers stuck in Istanbul or Dubai airport to their country after scaling in Iran.

According to Flight Radar 24 -the world’s most important flight tracking site- Mahan Airlines flew 34 times between Iran and China between February 1 and March 15. These flights were operated with cargo planes on the routes to Wuhan, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.

No masks or gloves worn during the flights

A steward that worked at the mentioned flights between China and Iran said that the crew members did not quarantine and did not use any protective elements such as masks or gloves due to the lack of medical supplies. However, in the photos released by the Mahan Airline, the personnel were shown wearing isolation (PPE) clothing.

Concerned about the leak of information, Mahan Airline has taken unprecedented action, adding confidentiality to the contract with the stewards. Thus, they are preventing the crew from telling the truth of their experience.

Why is Mahan Airlines still flying to China?

The ISNA news agency informed on March 15: “Flight data analysis shows that Mahan flights are still operational in at least one Chinese city. Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus in China and to prevent the transmission to Iran, the cabinet banned the flights to China on January 31.

However, according to Shanghai Airport’s official website, Mahan Airline is still operating there and with a flight number W577 at 9:55 AM local time on March 5 is supposed to enter Terminal 2. The status of the flight has also been announced: “as planned”.

The same steward said that many of his colleagues were not allowed to speak, and after the question, whether it was mandatory to work at the routes to Chine, he replied:

“About 200 people refused to go to China, but eventually due to fear of loss of the job or by promising a bonus some agreed to go. But in the end, they only paid the bonus to the pilots”.

He followed:

“The stewards flew again as planned immediately after their break. Mahan’s stewards are used in all directions, depending on the airline’s requirements, whether they are domestic or they are flying abroad”.

This means the spread of the virus all over Iran and from there to the Middle East and Europe.


Coronavirus not the only concern over Mahan Airlines


Lead Image: By Konstantin von Wedelstaedt –, GFDL 1.2,


Covid-19, Iran, China, flights

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Hamid Enayat

Hamid Enayat is an independent Iranian political analyst and writer based in Europe.