Iran president slams US for spreading virus 'fear'

Iranian President Hassan Rohani

TEHRAN — President Hassan Rohani on Wednesday accused the United States of trying to spread "fear" in Iran over a deadly outbreak of the novel Coronavirus.

The virus has claimed the lives of 19 people among 144 infections in Iran, including the deputy health minister — making it the deadliest outbreak outside China.

"We shouldn't let America mount a new virus on top of Coronavirus that is called... extreme fear," Rohani told a weekly Cabinet meeting, a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of suppressing information about the outbreak.

The Americans "themselves are struggling with Coronavirus. Sixteen thousand people have died of influenza there but they don't talk about their own (dead)," Rohani said.

Iran has been scrambling to contain COVID-19 since Wednesday last week when it announced the first two deaths in Qom, a centrer for Islamic studies and pilgrims that attracts scholars from abroad.

Its authorities have closed schools, universities, cultural centres, sporting events and deployed teams of sanitary workers to disinfect buses, trains and public spaces.

On Tuesday, Pompeo accused the republic of concealing the true extent of the outbreak.

"The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak," he told reporters in Washington.

Rohani said Iran had been making progress in the fight against the virus as "we witness fewer (hospital) visits and progress in treatment".

"If 100 people were hospitalized in the early days, seven to eight could have died, but this number has dropped very much today," he said.

The Iranian president also vowed to be transparent about the numbers of deaths and infections caused by the virus.

Iran has reported at least one death from coronavirus and two cases every day since Feb. 19. — AFP