Iran rejects 'foreign' help as virus death toll nears 2 000
Iran ruled out "foreign" help on the ground to deal with the coronavirus pandemic after an offer from a France-based medical charity, as the country's death toll from the contagion neared 2 000.
"Due to Iran's national mobilisation against the virus and the full use of the medical capacity of the armed forces, it is not necessary for now for hospital beds to be set up by foreign forces, and their presence is ruled out," Alireza Vahabzadeh, adviser to Iran's health minister, said on Tuesday.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Sunday it planned to send a nine-member team and equipment to set up a 50-bed hospital, stirring opposition from ultra-conservative circles in the Islamic Republic who alleged MSF staff would serve as "spies".
Health ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour earlier said a record 1 762 new cases were confirmed in Iran over the past 24 hours with 24 811 people infected.
He announced 122 new deaths from the virus, raising the official toll to 1 934 in one of the world's worst-hit countries.
MSF said on Tuesday it did not understand a decision by Iranian authorities to cancel a mission it had prearranged to set up a facility to fight coronavirus in Isfahan.
"We are surprised to learn that the deployment of our treatment unity is cancelled," Michel-Olivier Lacharite, who is in charge of Medecins Sans Frontieres crisis response team, said in a statement.
He said the group had been given prior approval and were ready to set up the 50-bed unit at the end of the week. He said they were still ready to deploy on Iran or elsewhere on the region.
Iran has the fifth-highest official death toll from the coronavirus after Italy, China, the US and Spain but, unlike those countries, it has yet to impose any lockdown on its citizens.
On the contrary, the country is celebrating its two-week Persian New Year holiday when the country's roads fill with people visiting family.
Despite the authorities' appeals for people to stay home and the closure of shopping and leisure centres, many people have taken to the roads as usual this year.
Jahanpour, however, announced when government offices reopened on Tuesday, many civil servants will be working from home.
"Only around a third of government staff are authorised to work in the office and only for administrative tasks vital to the public," he said, adding all offices would practise "social distancing".
The country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged Iranians to follow state instructions "so that Almighty God will put an end to this calamity for the Iranian people, for all Muslim nations and for all mankind".
'Sanctions should be eased'
On Tuesday, the UN rights chief called for any sanctions imposed on countries like Iran facing the new coronavirus pandemic to be "urgently re-evaluated" to avoid pushing strained medical systems into collapse.
Iran has been under crippling US sanctions in connection with its nuclear programme.
"At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended," UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said.
Even before the pandemic, she pointed out that human rights reports had repeatedly emphasised the impact of sectorial sanctions on access to essential medicines and medical equipment in Iran, including respirators and protective gear for healthcare workers.
Bachelet's office stressed more than 50 Iranian medics had died since the first Covid-19 case was detected in the country five weeks ago.