Iran battles worst Middle East outbreak

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Iran has announced 149 more fatalities from the new coronavirus, bringing its death toll to 1433 amid nearly 20,000 confirmed cases.

Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the Middle East, and has been widely criticised for its slow response.

The country’s leaders struck an upbeat tone earlier Friday, issuing messages in honour of the Persian new year in which they vowed to overcome the pandemic.

They also pledged to build up the economy after a delayed response to the pandemic by authorities contributed to the worst outbreak in the Middle East.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, called the new year “the year of leaps in production” in Iran’s economy, which has been under heavy US sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord.

President Hassan Rouhani marked the new year, known as Nowruz, by promising a better economy. “We will put the Coronavirus behind us soon with unity, with hard work and with cooperation,” he said.

Their optimistic tone stood in stark contrast to the devastation caused by the outbreak.

Rouhani has defended his government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in the face of widespread criticism that officials acted too slowly and may have even covered up initial cases before infections rapidly spread across the country.

Rouhani assured Iranians that his administration will prioritise health in the coming year and said it had stockpiled basic supplies.

Khamenei issued a religious edict this week prohibiting all unnecessary travel and authorities have restricted travel between cities.

After weeks of heavy criticism, authorities finally closed two major religious shrines in recent days.

Other countries in the region have imposed far stricter measures to contain the virus, including cancelling flights, sealing borders and forcing all non-essential businesses to close.

Originally published as Iran battles worst Middle East outbreak

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