According to a BBC News Arabic investigation, an Iranian airline carried passengers with coronavirus between the Islamic Republic and China, fueling the spread of COVID-19 throughout the Middle East. The probe found that Mahan Air, which is under US sanctions due to its connection to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, maintained routes to China for weeks after Tehran officially barred all travel to and from there on Jan. 31. The BBC claimed that the airline either lied altogether about dozens of subsequent flights taking place or described them as humanitarian in nature. An unknown number of planes returning to the Iranian capital from four different Chinese cities reportedly flew within 24 hours to Barcelona, Istanbul, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur. Moreover, Mahan Air allegedly operated hundreds of additional commercial flights to and from Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Syria until the end of March. The BBC investigation linked the first coronavirus cases in both Iraq and Lebanon to Mahan Air passengers. Iranian officials have confirmed some 100,000 cases of COVID-19, although critics have accused the government of hiding the severity of the outbreak and underreporting the true number of diagnoses.
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