Iran Accuses US Of Fear-Mongering As Deadly Coronavirus Spreads
Iran accused the United States on Wednesday of fear-mongering over a coronavirus outbreak that has spread across the Islamic republic and claimed 19 lives among 139 cases.
Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the situation was “improving” even as he called on Iranians to refrain from travel and announced infections in six new provinces.
The Islamic republic is scrambling to contain COVID-19 a week after announcing the first two deaths in Qom, a centre for Islamic studies that draws pilgrims and scholars from abroad.
Schools, universities and cultural centres have been closed, sporting events cancelled, and teams of sanitary workers deployed to disinfect buses, trains and public spaces.
President Hassan Rouhani took aim on Wednesday at Iran’s arch-foe the United States for spreading “fear” over the outbreak — the deadliest for any country other than China.
“We shouldn’t let America mount a new virus on top of coronavirus that is called … extreme fear,” he told a weekly cabinet meeting.
The Americans “themselves are struggling with coronavirus,” he said, adding that “16,000 people have died of influenza there but they don’t talk about their own (dead)”.
Rouhani’s remarks came a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of concealing the full extent of the outbreak.
“The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington.
Top official infected
International health experts have expressed concern about Iran’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Such worries mounted on Tuesday when the head of the task force combatting the virus, Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi, admitted he himself had been infected.
Harirchi had coughed and wiped the sweat from his brow at a joint news conference Monday with government spokesman Ali Rabiei, who is now awaiting the results of a coronavirus test.
The deputy minister stirred controversy at the time by denying a lawmaker’s claim that 50 people had died from the virus in Qom, the epicentre of Iran’s outbreak.
The latest health ministry figures show the virus has spread across the country.
There were 15 new cases in the Shiite holy city of Qom, nine in northern Gilan, four in the Tehran, and three in southern Fars, it said.
The ministry added that there was one new case in each of Markazi, Kermanshah, Ardebil, Mazandaran and Semnan provinces.
Newly hit regions included southwestern Khuzestan, which had three cases.
The others were Lorestan in the west, Semnan in central Iran, the southern province of Hormozgan, and Sistan and Baluchistan as well as Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad in the southeast, which all had two cases.
The health ministry’s spokesman, Jahanpour, appeared optimistic about the situation in the worst-hit province of Qom, south of Tehran.
“Every 24 hours at least 10 per cent of those hospitalised or suspect cases are discharged with good general health,” said the official.
But in Gilan “things are slightly concerning”, he added, as it has had the second-highest number of new cases, including people who had made trips to other provinces.
The northern province on the Caspian Sea coast is a favourite holiday destination for Iranians, especially for people from the capital.
The health minister has repeatedly called on Iranians to refrain from travelling to other provinces, especially those infected like Gilan.
Iran is yet to quarantine any of the infected cities, including Qom, with authorities dismissing the method as outdated and ineffective.
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