EU to give €20 million to aid sanctions-hit Iran in coronavirus fight
The European Union will send €20 million in humanitarian aid to Iran, which is subject to U.S. sanctions, to help alleviate the coronavirus outbreak, and will support Tehran's request for IMF financial help, the EU's top diplomat said on Monday.
"We've not been able to provide a lot of humanitarian help but there is some €20 million in the pipeline ... that we expect to be delivered over the next weeks," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a video news conference on Monday.
"We also agree in supporting the request by Iran and also by Venezuela to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to have financial support," he said after a video conference of EU foreign ministers, although he did not give more details.
Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by the coronavirus. The country's death toll increased Monday to 1,812, including 127 new deaths in the past 24 hours, a health ministry spokesman told state TV on Monday, adding that the country's total number of infected people has reached 23,049.
Meanwhile Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday said the US should lift sanctions if it wants to help Iran to contain the coronavirus outbreak, adding that Iran had no intention of accepting Washington's offer of humanitarian assistance.
"American leaders are lying ... If they want to help Iran, all they need to do is to lift sanctions .... Then we can deal with the coronavirus outbreak," Rouhani said in a televised speech.
Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to its longtime foe. But the country's top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday rejected the offer.
Coronavirus in the Middle East: Lock down or play down?
Countries such as Kuwait and Israel have instituted virtual lockdowns in the face of COVID-19, while religious gatherings have been limited at a time of year ripe with ritual. Others have been slower to act. By Tom Allinson
Iran bearing the brunt: with a high number of deaths and cases, Iran has been a regional epicentre of the outbreak. Several top officials have been infected and there are concerns the number of cases are higher than reported. The government has cancelled Friday prayers but health workers have complained they are under-equipped. Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for emergency funding
Strict measures in Saudi Arabia: Saudi authorities banned international religious pilgrims early on, leaving the Grand Mosque's Kaaba in Mecca virtually empty. Other measures have involved sanitizing streets and mosques, closing schools and universities, an extensive travel ban and fines of up to 500,000 riyals (€120,000/$133,000) for people hiding health details. It has also locked down the Shia-minority area of Qatif
Egypt restricts travel: in Cairo, hundreds of Egyptians tried to get certificates showing they have a clean bill of health after Saudi Arabia announced new travel regulations. Although Egypt has only detected a low number of cases, more than 100 tourists returning from the country tested positive for the virus. Officials have limited sermons to 15 minutes and cancelled large public gatherings
Israel and West Bank cut off from the world: gatherings of less than 100 are still allowed, leaving visits to the Wailing Wall open. But Israeli authorities have virtually halted air traffic in and out of its territory and tourists are required to self-quarantine. The city of Bethlehem has declared a state of emergency, emptying streets usually teeming ahead of Easter. Israeli researchers have said they are close to finding a COVID-19 cure
Virtual lockdown in Kuwait: as Kuwaitis kept their distance at this makeshift testing centre, the country entered a virtual lockdown, with the entire workforce given a two-week holiday from March 12. All commercial flights have been suspended from Friday on, schools have been closed and gatherings at restaurants, malls and commercial centres have been banned
In Iraq coronavirus fails to dampen protests: Iraq's protest movement has set up its own makeshift disinfection stations to counter the spread of COVID-19. Although Iraq is highly prone to the outbreak due to its proximity and close relations with Iran, protesters have been defiant, saying the government is the virus. Elsewhere authorities have closed major public spaces and religious institutions have cancelled gatherings
Tension between the two countries has been running high since 2018, when US President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
Iranian authorities have blamed US sanctions for hampering its efforts to curb the outbreak. Rouhani has urged Americans to call on their government to lift sanctions as Iran fights the coronavirus.
But the US has sent Iran a blunt message: the spread of the virus will not save it from the US sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.
"You have blocked Iran's oil exports, you have stopped Iran's banking transactions ... Your offer of help is the biggest lie in history," Rouhani said.
Although police said millions of people have defied advice to avoid traveling for the Persian New Year holidays, Rouhani praised Iranians for avoiding public places during the holidays. Iran's New Year started on Friday.
Even those who travelled stayed at homes of their relatives, Rouhani said.
On Sunday, the government ordered shopping centres to close in Tehran, where only pharmacies and shops that provided essential goods remain open.
Iran's Army has been ordered to set up a hospital with 2,000 beds in Tehran "within two days for the treatment of the coronavirus patients", the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Monday.
The outbreak has infected a number of senior officials, politicians, clerics, members of the elite Revolutionary Guards and dozens of lawmakers in Iran. At least a dozen of them have died from the coronavirus.
"The lawmakers have been infected because they travelled to their towns and were in close contact with people ahead of the parliamentary election on February 21," parliament speaker Ali Larijani told state TV. (FRANCE 24/REUTERS)