Iran to mobilise army against coronavirus as death toll tops 75
Iran's supreme leader put the Islamic Republic on war footing on Tuesday against the new coronavirus by ordering its armed forces to assist health officials in combatting the outbreak, which authorities say has killed 77 people, the highest toll outside China.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's decision was announced after state media broadcast images of the 80-year-old leader planting a tree wearing disposable gloves ahead of Iran's upcoming arbor day, showing how concern about the virus now reaches up to the top of the country's Shia theocracy.
Iranian media reported that 23 members of parliament now had the virus, as did the head of the country's emergency services.
"Whatever helps public health and prevents the spread of the disease is good and what helps to spread it is sin,” Khamenei said.
After downplaying the coronavirus as recently as last week, Iranian authorities said on Tuesday they had plans to potentially mobilise 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus.
It wasn't clear if Khamenei's order would set them in motion helping sanitise streets, direct traffic and track possible contacts those ill with the virus had with others, as initially suggested.
There are now over 2,530 cases of the new coronavirus across the Middle East. Of those outside Iran in the region, most link back to the Islamic Republic.
Yet experts worry Iran’s percentage of deaths to infections, now around 3.3%, is much higher than in other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be far greater than current figures show.
Iran stands alone in how the virus has affected its government, even compared to hard-hit China, the epicentre of the outbreak.
The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi on Monday makes him the highest-ranking official within Iran’s leadership to be killed by the virus. State media referred to him as a confidant of Khamenei.
The virus earlier killed Hadi Khosroshahi, Iran’s former ambassador to the Vatican, as well as a recently elected member of parliament.
Those sick include Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, better known as “Sister Mary”, the English-speaking spokeswoman for the students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and sparked the 444-day hostage crisis, state media reported.
Also sick is Iraj Harirchi, the head of an Iranian government task force on the coronavirus who tried to downplay the virus before falling ill.
On Tuesday, lawmaker Abdolreza Mesri told Iranian state television’s Young Journalists Club programme that 23 members of parliament had the coronavirus. He urged all lawmakers to avoid the public.
“These people have a close relationship with the people and they carry different viruses from different parts of the country, which may create a new virus, so we recommend the lawmakers to cut off their relationship with the public for now," Mesri said.
The semi-official ILNA and Tasnim news agencies in Iran also reported that Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of the country's emergency services, had come down with the new illness. They offered no other immediate details. (France24/AP)