Amid rising coronavirus death toll, Iran marks Nowruz
The current coronavirus death toll in Iran stands at 1,433 amid concerns that the true scale of the virus is being downplayed by the government and could rapidly get much worse.
Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by coronavirus, with its death toll climbing to 1,433 and one person dying from it every 10 minutes and 50 becoming infected every hour. Despite concerns that the true scale of the virus is being downplayed by the government and could rapidly get much worse, President Hassan Rouhani has praised doctors and nurses for their courage in fighting coronavirus.
In a televised address to mark Nowruz, the Persian New Year which falls on Friday, Rouhani said: "Our nation has managed to reach its goals, despite difficulties... Iran will overcome the coronavirus with unity."
Earlier in the day, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei praised the country’s medical community and volunteers for their work in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
“The sacrifices made were so dazzling that even foreigners felt obliged to admire them,” Khamenei said in his address to the nation to mark Persian New Year.
“There were also support groups, some of which offered their factories and even their houses with the aim of manufacturing the products needed for patients ... products such as gloves, masks. The Iranian nation showed its virtues through these groups,” Khamenei said.
Some of Iran's busiest religious shrines have been closed. The authorities are hoping that people will stay at home during a two-week public holiday so that infection rates are reduced significantly.
Shia pilgrims visiting the religious sites from across the Muslim world have inadvertently spread the virus to surrounding countries. There are fears the actual death toll from coronavirus in Iran could be significantly higher than officially acknowledged.
Iranian authorities have urged a lifting of US sanctions to help them deal with the crisis. But they have been accused of being slow to act and lock down cities - even as the number of infections has risen dramatically.
Meanwhile, the United States has sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from American sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.
The United States, which argues that its “maximum pressure” campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear, missile and regional activities does not stop the flow of humanitarian goods, imposed new sanctions this week.
The Trump administration blacklisted five companies based in the United Arab Emirates, three in mainland China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa for trade in Iran’s petrochemicals.
“Washington’s increased pressure against Iran is a crime against humanity,” an Iranian official told Reuters. “All the world should help each other to overcome this disease.”
Some analysts suggested the Trump administration should do more to speed the flow of humanitarian goods into Iran, though they saw little evidence to suggest this was in the offing.