In this episode of UpFront we challenge prominent Iranian political analyst Mohammad Marandi on how Tehran is handling the coronavirus.

And in a Special Interview, Brazilian congresswoman Tabata Amaral explains why she thinks President Jair Bolsonaro is putting millions of lives at risk.

COVID-19: Iran's government 'didn't botch the response'

According to official figures, at least six people die every hour in Iran from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The Islamic republic has become one of the world's coronavirus epicentres, with the death toll surpassing 3,000 this week and cases topping 50,000.

As the virus spreads in Iran, the government has been criticised for its response to the crisis, particularly how it handled the situation in Qom, now the country's worst-hit city where the outbreak began. It has also been accused of playing down the number of cases. 

But Iranian political analyst Mohammad Marandi claims the Iranian government acted to fight the virus as soon as the first case was discovered.

"Iran got its first kit, I think on February the 17th. And on February the 19th, they discovered their first case. And they declared it on the very same day. And the fight began since then," Marandi said.

"The Iranian government didn't botch the response. I'm not an advocate of the administration but the Iranian government, as soon as it discovered what the problem was, it began to deal with it, but they didn't know the scope of the problem," he added.

Marandi blamed US sanctions for Iran's difficulty in obtaining kits as well as for the shortage of medical supplies in the country.

"They've [the US] weaponised the coronavirus for the Iranian people by prohibiting Iran from using the banking sector, by prohibiting Iran from purchasing goods from important pharmaceutical companies. The United States has put so many conditions on different pharmaceutical companies across the world, that they will not work with Iran," Marandi said.

When asked whether he agreed with claims made by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei that the coronavirus was a chemical weapon created by the Americans, Marandi said he did not know where the virus originated.

"I don't know what was the origin of this virus, but I know that the regime in Washington has been using it as a weapon against Iranians. Don't blame the victim, that's ugly," he said.

This week's Headliner, Mohammad Marandi, Iranian political analyst and professor at the University of Tehran, explains the government's response to the coronavirus.

COVID-19: Brazil's Bolsanaro is putting 'lives in danger'

With some 7,000 cases and 200 deaths, Brazil has more COVID-19 infections than any other country in Latin America. The country's health minister warns the healthcare system could be overwhelmed by the end of April.

Yet, President Jair Bolsonaro has been downplaying the pandemic. He has referred to the virus as a "little flu" and "hysteria" and even visited a busy market outside the country's capital, Brasília, in a bid to get people back to work.

Brazilian congresswoman Tabata Amaral accused Bolsanaro of lying and using social media to spread fake news.

"By doing those things, and by telling people to go to their streets, and actually going himself to greet the crowds, which he did last weekend, he's putting lives in danger," Amaral said.

"I'm very ashamed by all of the things he is doing, especially in moments of crisis, we need a leader who tells people everything will be all right," she added.

In March, Bolsonaro visited the US for a meeting with President Donald Trump. When he returned to Brazil, more than 20 members of his delegation tested positive for the virus. Bolsonaro says he tested negative for COVID-19, but speculation continues in Brazil that he may have the virus.

"He is not someone known for telling the truth, and he hasn't been, he hasn't shown his test ... But the bigger point is that he is being extremely irresponsible," Amaral said.

A movement is growing inside Brazil calling for Bolsanaro's impeachment, but Amaral stopped short of supporting it at this time.

"I do think he should be held accountable for everything he's doing - but after the crisis. I don't think my country can handle another crisis on top of coronavirus right now," Amaral said.

President Trump has employed rhetoric similar to the claims made by the Brazilian president. Like Bolsanaro, Trump has dismissed fears about the virus,  saying it would "go away" and describing it as a political "hoax".

But Amaral says that while Bolosonaro is a fan of Trump, the two leaders' response to the virus differs.

"President Trump is more pragmatic. When he saw all of the people who were dying in the US, when he saw all of what that meant to his popularity, to the economy, he changed his attitude, and Bolsonaro is not changing the attitude," Amaral said.

In this week's Special Interview, we discuss Jair Bolsanaro's defiance in the face of the coronavirus with Brazilian congresswoman Tabata Amaral.

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Source: Al Jazeera