U.S. Official Cheers Virus Spread in Iran
TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday coronavirus must not become an "enemy weapon” that prevents business in Iran.
"Corona should not be turned into a weapon of our enemies for shutting down work and production in the country,” Rouhani said.
His remarks came as Iran girded for a long battle against the coronavirus that has now killed 19 people.
Rouhani said there were no immediate plans to quarantine cities, but he acknowledged it may take "one, two or three weeks” to get control of the virus in Iran.
"We must not let the United States attach a new virus to the coronavirus by stopping our social activities through tremendous fear. This is a conspiracy we see today and you see in foreign propaganda,” Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting.
"They are also suffering from coronavirus. Influenza has killed 16,000 people in the United States, but they are not speaking about themselves. Americans better take care of thousands of flu casualties in their own country,” he said.
Mark Dubowitz, an advocate for tougher sanctions on Iran in the U.S. government, said Tuesday coronavirus has halted Iran’s non-oil exports, achieving "what American economic sanctions could not”.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi denounced the remarks.
"It’s shameful and downright inhuman to cheer for a deadly Virus to spread - and enjoy seeing people suffer for it, but at least @mdubowitz understands that the American economic sanctions were not -- and will not -- as effective as a Covid-19 Virus,” he tweeted.
In another outrageous and unfounded claim, Dubowitz said that Tehran has "spread terrorism” in the Middle East and "now it’s spreading the coronavirus”.
The comments came as Iran tried to come to grips with the problem.
In Tehran overnight, mass transit workers disinfected buses and the capital’s subway system, removing overhead handles to try to limit surfaces where the virus could rest. Signs warned Iranians not to touch surfaces in crowded areas.
In Qom that government statistics say has been hit hardest by the virus, photos published by the judiciary’s Mizan news agency showed doctors wearing high-end face masks.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 19 people have died from the illness, which is named COVID-19, with 139 confirmed cases in the country. The World Health Organization says the virus has infected more than 80,000 people globally, causing over 2,700 deaths, mainly in China.
Iran’s Cyber Police reported that 24 people were arrested and 118 other were warned about "spreading rumors” on the internet about the virus.
"Iran has a relatively robust public health system, although it has been weakened by U.S. sanctions,” analysts at the Eurasia Group said.
Rouhani said coronavirus testing kits developed by Iranian experts are undergoing final tests and will enter the mass-production stage in the near future.
All the initial tests on the package have proven to be "positive and credible,” Rouhani told a cabinet session, saying the equipment would undergo final examination over the next couple of days.
"Shortly, we will be able to make hundreds of thousands and even millions of these kits, and place
them at the disposal of all of the country’s hospitals” he said, noting that the package would enable medics to easily diagnose new cases.
The president said what demands even more attention than coronavirus itself was "the virus of fear, anxiety, ambivalence, and distrust among the people,” which has to be tackled properly as it could lead to other problems if not contained.
Rouhani pointed to stepped-up U.S. attempts over the past two years to bring to a standstill economic activities and productivity inside Iran.
The Newsweek said Iran is racing to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, but these efforts are complicated by tight economic restrictions imposed by the United States.
"The U.S.’ sanctions regime has severely impacted the access that Iranians have to life-saving medical supplies and will most likely hamper the Islamic Republic’s ability to respond to the coronavirus efficiently,” Naveed Mansoori, a co-editor of online Middle East magazine Jadaliyya’s Iran Page, told Newsweek.