Iran will win against ‘unwelcome guest’ COVID-19, says president

TEHRAN: Iran will weather the challenges of the coronavirus, said President Hassan Rouhani on Friday during a speech to mark the Persian New Year, Nowruz.
Along with US sanctions imposed on Iran in an attempt to block its nuclear programmes, the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus — which is hitting Iran much harder than most other nations — is an “unwelcome guest” that will soon be banished, said Rouhani in a televised statement.
“We had two great challenges in the last year, which we will have to beat in the new year,” he said.
He added that Iran will prevail against the US sanctions as well, even though they are hurting the country’s economy and especially its oil sector, by showing resistance and ramping up domestic production.
Along with a spiralling toll of sick and dead — more than 18,000 are infected with the coronavirus and 1,284 have died of the COVID-19 disease it causes — Iran has also seen its economy take a further hit due to the viral outbreak.
Most of the infected are in Tehran, which has reported about 4,400 cases.
However, in a bright spot, 6,000 people have reportedly recovered from the disease, including a 103-year-old woman in the city of Semnan.
To keep fighting the disease, Rouhani urged people to skip the family visits that are a traditional part of Nowruz. He recommended that people stay home during the two-week festival.
Fears about the virus are so great that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, skipped his annual speech. The country has also put several of its holy cities under quarantine, in an effort to discourage the virus’ spread. It has been weeks since Iran has had Friday prayers.
Meanwhile, 23 inmates escaped from an Iranian prison while guards were making preparations for a Persian New Year amnesty, state news agency IRNA reported on Friday.
It said the detainees escaped overnight from a facility in the western city of Khorramabad, the capital of Lorestan province, just hours before the start of Nowruz.
IRNA denied guards had shot a prisoner during the escape, saying such reports came from “unreliable sources”, after opposition groups tweeted that several inmates were shot. The escapees had been serving a maximum of one-year sentences, the agency said, denying dangerous individuals went free.
On Wednesday night, Iran’s judiciary said that “around 10,000 prisoners” would be released in the New Year amnesty.

US CITIZENS FREED
The United States on Thursday hailed the release of its citizens in Iran and Lebanon as the coronavirus pandemic heightened global fears for prisoners’ health.
The United States also pressed Venezuela to free dual nationals detained from oil company Citgo and President Donald Trump held out hope for Austin Tice, a journalist missing in war-ravaged Syria since 2012.
In two very different cases, Iran transferred a US veteran who had apparently gone to the rival nation to see a woman he met online, while Lebanon handed over a naturalised American accused of
abusing prisoners as part of a pro-Israel militia.
US Navy veteran Michael White was given in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad to a team from Switzerland, which represents US interests in the absence of diplomatic relations, and flown to the capital Tehran, the State Department said.
“The United States will continue to work for Michael’s full release as well as the release of all wrongfully
detained Americans in Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
White was detained in July 2018 and later sentenced to at least 10 years in prison on charges that he insulted Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posted anti-regime remarks on social media under a pseudonym. — dpa/AFP