COVID-19: Europe Sends Medical Gear To Iran In First Sanction-Bypass Deal

People queue in line to receive packages for precautions against COVID-19 coronavirus disease provided by the Basij, a militia loyal to Iran’s Islamic republic establishment, from a booth outside Meydane Valiasr metro station in the capital Tehran on March 15, 2020. – Iran on March 15 announced that the new coronavirus has killed 113 more people, the highest single-day death toll yet in one of the world’s worst-affected countries. STRINGER / AFP.

 

European nations have delivered medical goods to Iran in the first transaction under the Instex mechanism set up to bypass American sanctions on Tehran, the German foreign ministry said Tuesday.

“France, Germany and the United Kingdom confirm that Instex has successfully concluded its first transaction, facilitating the export of medical goods from Europe to Iran. These goods are now in Iran,” the ministry said in a statement.

The first successful transaction comes over a year after Britain, France and Germany announced the creation of Instex, months that have been marked by Iranian chafing against European delay.

“Now the first transaction is complete, Instex and its Iranian counterpart STFI will work on more transactions and enhancing the mechanism,” Berlin said.

Britain, France and Germany were among a list of countries that Iran reported receiving medical aid from earlier this month as it battles a serious outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, the number of cases in the country passed 40,000, and the government warned the epidemic could run for several more months and cost over 10,000 lives.

Some 2,757 people have already died in Iran from the coronavirus.

READ ALSO: Global Lockdown Tightens As Coronavirus Deaths Mount

Tehran’s struggle to bring the virus’ spread under control has been made more difficult by US sanctions.

The blockade was re-imposed under President Donald Trump after he withdrew from a 2015 deal in which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for easier access to global trade.

But the European sanctions-skirting scheme aims to keep the nuclear deal alive, holding Iran back from developing a bomb.

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei said last week that Iran would not accept help from Washington after Trump offered aid at the end of February.

The American proposals “to help us with medicines and treatments, provided we ask for them, are strange”, he said, calling the US Iran’s “most ferocious and vicious enemy”.

AFP

Iran Records 117 New Coronavirus Deaths

An Iranian medic treats a patient infected with the COVID-19 virus at a hospital in Tehran on March 1, 2020. A plane carrying UN medical experts and aid touched down on March 2, 2020, in Iran on a mission to help it tackle the world’s second-deadliest outbreak of coronavirus as European powers said they would send further help.
KOOSHA MAHSHID FALAHI / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Iran on Monday reported 117 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the official total number of fatalities to 2,757.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced the tolls in a news conference and said 3,186 more cases had been confirmed in the past day, raising total infections to 41,495.

The Islamic republic is one of the countries worst hit by the virus, which originated in China.

Iran has been scrambling to contain COVID-19’s spread since it reported its first cases on February 19.

After weeks of refraining from imposing lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8, but some in the establishment have argued it is too little, too late.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said at a daily news briefing that 117 more people had died from the virus over the past 24 hours and 3,186 new cases had been confirmed.

According to Jahanpour, 13,911 of those hospitalised because of the virus have recovered, while 3,511 are in a critical condition.

There is no official lockdown in Iran’s cities although the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home to contain the spread of the virus.

“Coronavirus could have been more quickly contained, if the health ministry’s expert opinion regarding implementing social distancing and social limitations was considered sooner,” Iran’s judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying.

Raisi, an ultra-conservative who ran against Rouhani in the 2017 presidential election, added that “time is of the essence” and that people started “cooperating” only after authorities appeared serious.

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, a veteran conservative and recent MP-elect who also stood against Rouhani, said that the current administration is mishandling the situation.

On Twitter, he said the government’s “inefficient management” pattern has become evident during the outbreak through “ignoring reality, unjustified optimism, sessions once per week and not utilising people’s potential”.

He accused Rouhani of “worsening crises, and then asking for help and putting the blame on others”.

The wave of criticism came after Rouhani called on those “who might become officials in a month or two” to assist the outbreak response, indirectly pointing to Ghalibaf who is yet to enter parliament.

“This is not a time for gathering followers. This is not a time for political war,” he said.

AFP

54 Inmates Missing After Mass Jail Break In Iran

Members of the Iranian Red Crescent test people for coronavirus Covid-19 symptoms, as police blocked Tehran to Alborz highway to check every car following orders by the Iranian government, outside Tehran on March 26, 2020.  STR / AFP

 

Iranian security forces are searching for 54 escaped inmates following a prison break over which four guards were arrested, Iran’s state news agency reported on Sunday.

“Some prison guards were summoned and four of them were arrested and others released on bail,” Mojtaba Shirouzbozorgi, a judicial official in Kurdistan province, told IRNA.

According to the agency, 74 inmates escaped from Saqqez city’s prison on Friday, 20 of whom have so far either turned themselves in or been captured.

On March 19, 23 prisoners escaped from another jail in the western city of Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province, hours before the start of Iran’s New Year celebrations, IRNA said.

They reportedly escaped during the night while guards were making preparations for a New Year amnesty.

The escapees had been serving a maximum of one-year sentences, the agency said, denying that dangerous criminals were at large.

There were also prison riots in Hamedan and Tabriz provinces, and Aligoudarz city in Lorestan as authorities prevented escapes.

Hamedan’s prosecutor told IRNA that the unrest there was “over the excuse of the coronavirus outbreak.”

One inmate died and another was injured at the riot in Aligoudarz prison.

Around 10,000 prisoners are expected to be released in the New Year amnesty, according to Iran’s judiciary.

The move aims to “reduce the number of prisoners in light of the sensitive situation in the country”, a judicial spokesman said, making no explicit reference to the coronavirus pandemic.

Iran’s judiciary has also temporarily released 100,000 detainees in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease, the spokesman said on Sunday.

According to the latest official toll, the virus has killed 2,640 people in the Islamic republic, ranking it among the world’s worst-affected countries.

AFP

Iran COVID-19 Death Toll Tops 2,500

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on March 18, 2020 shows President Hassan Rouhani (R) chairing a cabinet meeting alongside Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri in the capital Tehran. Iranian Presidency / AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on March 18, 2020 shows President Hassan Rouhani (R) chairing a cabinet meeting alongside Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri in the capital Tehran. Iranian Presidency / AFP

 

Iran announced Saturday that 139 more people had died from the novel coronavirus, raising the official death toll to 2,517 in one of the world’s worst-affected countries.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference that 3,076 more cases had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 35,408.

“The condition of 3,026 of those hospitalised is critical in one way or another,” he said, adding that 11,679 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Jahanpour said that 57 million Iranians had been screened for the virus.

He said the data received had been “significant” and had helped with early detection and intervention.

Iran has imposed strict new containment measures, after weeks of public appeals largely failed to deter hundreds of thousands taking to the roads to visit family for the Persian New Year holidays.

They include a ban on intercity travel by road with offeners via roads and fining and impounding violators’ cars.

The restrictions, which will remain in force at least until April 8, include a ban on all intercity travel by road.

AFP

Iran Reports 144 New Coronavirus Deaths, Raising Total To 2,378

Medical staff in protective gears distribute information sheets to Iraqi passengers returning from Iran at Najaf International Airport on March 5, 2020. Iraqi health authorities announced the country’s first two deaths from the new coronavirus, one in the capital Baghdad and the other in the autonomous Kurdish region.
Haidar HAMDANI / AFP

 

Iran  announced 144 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the official number of fatalities to 2,378 in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.

“In the past 24 hours, we’ve had 2,926 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections across the country,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

“This brings the overall confirmed cases to at least 32,332,” he added, noting that 11,133 of those hospitalised so far have recovered.

AFP

Iran Rejects ‘Foreign’ Help As Virus Death Toll Nears 2,000

Iranian workers set up a makeshift hospital inside the Iran Mall, northwest of Tehran, on March 21, 2020 amid the coronavirus outbreak.

 

A senior Iranian official Tuesday ruled out “foreign” help on the ground to deal with the coronavirus epidemic after an offer from a France-based medical charity, as the country’s death toll from the illness neared 2,000.

“Due to Iran’s national mobilisation against the virus and the full use of the medical capacity of the armed forces, it is not necessary for now for hospital beds to be set up by foreign forces, and their presence is ruled out,” Alireza Vahabzadeh, advisor to Iran’s health minister, said on Twitter.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had said Sunday that it planned to send a nine-member team and equipment to set up a 50-bed hospital, stirring opposition from ultra-conservative circles in the Islamic republic who charged that MSF staff would serve as “spies”.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour earlier said a record 1,762 new cases have been confirmed in Iran over the past 24 hours and 24,811 people are now known to have been infected with the new coronavirus.

He announced 122 new deaths from the virus, raising the official toll to 1,934 in one of the world’s worst hit countries.

Iran has the fourth highest official death toll from the coronavirus after Italy, China and Spain but, unlike those countries, it has yet to impose any lockdown on its citizens.

On the contrary, the country is in the midst of the two-week Persian New Year holiday when the country’s roads fill with people visiting family.

Despite the authorities’ appeals for people to stay home and the closure of shopping and leisure centres, many people have taken to the roads as usual this year.

Jahanpour, however, announced that when government offices reopen on Tuesday, many civil servants will be working from home.

“Only around a third of government staff are authorised to work in the office and only for administrative tasks vital to the public,” he said, adding that all offices would practise “social distancing”.

The country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged Iranians to follow state instructions “so that Almighty God will put an end to this calamity for the Iranian people, for all Muslim nations and for all mankind”.

– ‘Sanctions should be eased’ –
On Tuesday, the UN rights chief called for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran facing the new coronavirus pandemic to be “urgently re-evaluated” to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.

Iran has been under crippling US sanctions in connection with its nuclear programme.

“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,” Michelle Bachelet said.

Even before the pandemic, she pointed out that human rights reports had repeatedly emphasised the impact of sectorial sanctions on access to essential medicines and medical equipment in Iran, including respirators and protective gear for healthcare workers.

Bachelet’s office stressed that more than 50 Iranian medics had died since the first COVID-19 case was detected in the country five weeks ago.

Adding to Iran’s woes, floods caused by heavy rainfall since Sunday, mainly in western provinces, have killed at least 12 people and left two others missing, a spokesman for Iran’s rescue services told AFP.

Mojtaba Khaledi said that warnings have been issued of more heavy rains for later this week in western Iran.

COVID-19: UN Seeks Ease Of Sanctions On Iran, Other Countries

People queue in line to receive packages for precautions against COVID-19 coronavirus disease provided by the Basij, a militia loyal to Iran’s Islamic republic establishment, from a booth outside Meydane Valiasr metro station in the capital Tehran on March 15, 2020. – Iran on March 15 announced that the new coronavirus has killed 113 more people, the highest single-day death toll yet in one of the world’s worst-affected countries. STRINGER / AFP.

 

The UN rights chief called Tuesday for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran facing the new coronavirus pandemic to be “urgently re-evaluated” to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.

“At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

“In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us,” she said.

Bachelet insisted “humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be given broad and practical effect, with prompt, flexible authorisation for essential medical equipment and supplies.”

Her comments came as the number of cases of COVID-19 approached 400,000 worldwide, including nearly 17,000 deaths, according to an AFP tally using official sources.

Bachelet pointed in particular to the case of Iran — one of the hardest-hit countries in the pandemic with nearly 2,000 deaths.

READ ALSO: Over 200,000 Coronavirus Cases Declared In Europe

Even before the pandemic, she pointed out that human rights reports had repeatedly emphasised the impact of sectorial sanctions on access to essential medicines and medical equipment in the country, including respirators and protective gear for healthcare workers.

Bachelet’s office stressed that more than 50 Iranian medics had died since the first COVID-19 case was detected in the country five weeks ago.

She warned that Iran’s epidemic was also spreading to neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan, putting a strain on their fragile health systems as well.

The statement also cautioned that sanctions could impede medical efforts in Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe during the pandemic.

“The majority of these states have frail or weak health systems,” Bachelet warned.

“Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems — but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks, will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities,” she said.

The UN rights chief stressed that “the populations in these countries are in no way responsible for the policies being targeted by sanctions, and to varying degrees have already been living in a precarious situation for prolonged periods.”

Bachelet stressed the importance of protecting health workers: “Medical professionals should never be punished by the authorities for pointing out deficiencies in the response to the crisis.”

She urged world leaders to come together.

“No country can effectively combat this epidemic on its own,” she said. “We need to act with solidarity, cooperation and care.”

AFP

103-Year-Old Woman Survives Coronavirus In Iran

A file photo showing an ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP.

 

A 103-year-old woman in Iran has recovered after being infected with the new coronavirus, state media reported, despite overwhelming evidence the elderly are most at risk from the disease.

The unnamed woman had been hospitalised in the central city of Semnan for about a week, IRNA news agency said.

But she was “discharged after making a complete recovery”, Semnan University of Medical Sciences head Navid Danayi was quoted as saying by IRNA late Tuesday.

The woman was the second elderly patient in Iran to have survived the disease.

The other was a 91-year-old man from Kerman, in the southeast of Iran, the news agency said.

After being sick for three days, he recovered on Monday despite having pre-existing medical conditions including high blood pressure and asthma, it added.

The report did not say how the pair were treated.

Since Iran announced its first deaths on February 19, the novel coronavirus has spread to all of the country’s 31 provinces and killed nearly 1,000 people.

The elderly are the most vulnerable to the disease, which first emerged in China late last year.

The World Health Organization this month estimated the novel coronavirus kills 3.4 percent of all those infected.

But for people aged over 80 the fatality rate was 21.9 percent, according to a report the WHO carried out with the Chinese authorities.

AFP

Iran Asks IMF For Loan To Combat Coronavirus Outbreak

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

 

Iran said on Thursday that it has sought immediate financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it combat one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks.

According to a tweet by Iran’s top diplomat, IMF chief Kristina Georgieva had “stated that countries affected by #COVID19 will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument (RFI)”.

“Our central bank requested access to this facility immediately,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif added on his Twitter account.

READ ALSO: Spain Minister Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a “standby credit” issued between 1960 and 1962, according to the fund’s data.

Zarif said the IMF and its board “should adhere to fund’s mandate, stand on right side of history and act responsibly”.

The various loans that can be granted by the IMF must be approved by the institution’s executive board, where the United States practically has a veto on decisions.

The United States is currently pursuing a policy of “maximum pressure” aimed at crippling the finances of Iran’s government.

In an Instagram post picked up by state news agency IRNA, central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati claimed to have formally requested access to RFI by letter on March 6.

“Given the widespread prevalence of coronavirus in our country and the need to continue to take strong measures to prevent and cure (the disease), and to address its economic impact,” Iran was asking for “about $5 billion” in assistance, Hemmati wrote on his Instagram account.

Iran on Thursday reported 75 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest single-day toll since the Islamic republic announced the first deaths from the outbreak on February 19.

It took the overall death toll to 429 out of a total of more than 10,000 confirmed cases of infection.

The World Health Organization called for Iran to be given more support in its fight to bring the outbreak under control.

“Iran is doing its best… We are trying to mobilise more support for Iran,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva, adding that the country needed more supplies.

According to the IMF’s website, the RFI “provides rapid financial assistance, which is available to all member countries facing an urgent balance of payments need. ”

AFP

Iran Announces 63 New Coronavirus Deaths, Taking Total To 354

Medical staff in protective gear wait for Iraqi passengers returning from Iran at Najaf International Airport on March 5, 2020. PHOTO: Haidar HAMDANI / AFP

 

Iran on Wednesday reported 63 new deaths from the coronavirus, the highest single-day toll in the three weeks since the Islamic republic announced the first deaths from the outbreak.

The outbreak of the coronavirus in Iran is one of the deadliest outside China, where the disease originated.

“Based on new lab results, we have identified 958 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the country, bringing the total number of cases to 9,000,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said in a televised news conference.

“Unfortunately in the past 24 hours, we have had reports of 63 deaths and overall 354 have lost their lives” to the virus, he added.

The capital Tehran had the newest infections with 256 cases.

The central province of Isfahan followed with 170, and Semnan, to the east of Tehran, had 63.

Bushehr, as well as Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad in the southwest, had no new cases.

Iran announced its first coronavirus deaths, in the Shiite holy city of Qom, on February 19.

It is yet to officially impose quarantines but authorities have repeatedly called on people to refrain from traveling.

They have closed schools and universities and resorted to shutting hotels and other tourist accommodation to discourage travel.

Jahanpour said the number of infections was still on the rise and that Iran would not be “celebrating the end of coronavirus” during the country’s new year holidays, which start on March 20.

Poisoning deaths

President Hassan Rouhani also called on people to limit their movements in order to contain the virus.

“Movements must be reduced to the possible minimum, unless it is absolutely necessary,” Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting, flanked by ministers wearing masks.

“Everyone must pay attention to protocols and be careful so the virus’s spread can be contained,” he added.

Rouhani also warned against “exaggerating” the number of dead through non-official tolls and causing “fear and anxiety” among the public.

Apart from direct fatalities, 84 people have died from methanol poisoning in Iran after rumours circulated that drinking alcohol can help cure or protect from the virus.

In some provinces such as Khuzestan in the southwest, the death toll from poisoning is higher than that from the coronavirus.

Separately, Iran’s foreign ministry expressed concern over the health of Iranian prisoners in the United States because of what it called President Donald Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus outbreak there.

Spokesman Abbas Mousavi made the remarks after the United States demanded the release of American prisoners from virus-hit Iran.

“We’re worried about the health of some Iranian prisoners taken hostage” in the US, he told a news conference that was held online because of the outbreak.

Mousavi criticised the US over what he called its “imaginary projects like a wall, a carefree president, and needless and illegal presence in other countries” and urged Washington to use its resources better to ensure the health of its citizens.

AFP

US Asks Tehran To Release American Prisoners Amid Coronavirus Crisis

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing at the State Department on February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP

 

The United States on Tuesday called for Iran to release all American prisoners held in the country as the coronavirus outbreak reportedly spreads through its prisons.

“The United States will hold the Iranian regime directly responsible for any American deaths. Our response will be decisive,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“Reports that COVID-19 has spread to Iranian prisons are deeply troubling and demand nothing less than the full and immediate release of all American citizens.

“Their detention amid increasingly deteriorating conditions defies basic human decency.”

Iran’s response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, including temporarily releasing 70,000 prisoners, was “too little, too late,” a UN rights expert said Tuesday.

Javaid Rehman, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said Tehran was trying to “fudge” its handling of the outbreak, one of the deadliest outside China, where the disease originated.

“The situation on coronavirus is highly disturbing within Iran,” Rehman told reporters at the UN in Geneva.

Iran on Tuesday reported 54 new deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day toll since the start of the outbreak there. That brought the numbers killed in the country to 291 out of 8,042 infected.

The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan Online official news agency cited Asghar Jahangir, the head of Iran’s prisons organization, as saying that “about 70,000 prisoners” had been released in a bid to combat the outbreak.

Iran said in December it was ready for more prisoner swaps with the United States after it secured the return of scientist Massoud Soleimani in exchange for Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born American held in the Islamic republic.

Decades-old tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated steeply since 2018, when US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

AFP

Iran Announces 43 New Coronavirus Deaths

 

Iran on Monday announced 43 new deaths from the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll to 237 dead, one of the world’s highest.

“Our colleagues have confirmed 595 new cases across the country,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour told a news conference.

“This brings the overall number of confirmed cases to 7,161 as of today noon,” he said.

Jahanpour said the rate of new infections was slowing but it was “still too early to judge” when the outbreak could be brought under control.

READ ALSO: Germany Reports First Two Coronavirus Deaths

“Forty-three people have unfortunately been added to the number of those who have died of the disease, so to date we have 237 dead,” he said.

Iranian media said a politician and a high-ranking cleric were among the latest fatalities.

Mohammadreza Rahchamani, a reformist politician and sitting MP from 1984 to 2000, died on Monday, state news agency IRNA said.

Another prominent victim was Ayatollah Reza Mohammadi Langeroudi, 91, a student of the Islamic republic’s late founder Ayatollah Khomeini, Entekhab website reported.

The outbreak of the virus in Iran is one of the deadliest outside of China, where the disease originated.

With 1,945 cases, the capital Tehran remains the province with the most cases.

The second worst-hit province with 712 confirmed cases is Qom, the Shiite pilgrimage city south of Tehran where the Islamic republic’s first cases were reported, followed by Mazandaran in the north with 633.

The latter is a popular tourist spot bordering the Caspian Sea, especially during holidays for the Iranian New Year on March 20.

Iran is yet to officially impose quarantines but authorities have repeatedly advised against travelling.

In certain provinces including Mazandaran, the police have announced that non-residents will be denied entry.

According to Iranian media, authorities in several provinces have ordered the closure of hotels and other tourist accommodations in a bid to discourage travel.

State television has also started airing educational programmes for elementary school students, after schools were closed until the end of the Iranian year.

Some radical Iranian officials have speculated the coronavirus may have been developed as a weapon by the Islamic republic’s arch-enemy, the United States.

The virus may have been “a product of America’s biological aggression that has first infected China and then spread to Iran and the rest of the world,” said Hossein Salami, commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, quoted in Etemad newspaper.

But Alaeddin Boroudjerdi, a senior MP, noted that the “United States, the Zionist regime (Israel) and other countries are all affected” by the virus.

Apart from the direct fatalities, 27 people have died from methanol poisoning in Iran after rumours that drinking alcohol can help cure the disease.