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Iran’s Khamenei warns economy will worsen if virus spreads (news.cgtn.com)

Iran’s supreme leader warned on Saturday that the country’s economic problems would worsen if the novel coronavirus spreads unchecked, as the government launched a mask-wearing campaign.

The Islamic republic has struggled to curb the COVID-19 outbreak since it reported its first cases in the Shiite holy city of Qom in February.

It shut down non-essential businesses, closed schools and cancelled public events in March, but gradually lifted restrictions from April to try to reopen the country’s sanctions-hit economy.

“It is correct to say that something must be done to prevent economic problems caused by the coronavirus,” said Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“But in the case of negligence and significant spread of the disease, economic problems will increase, too,” he said, according to his official website.

The Iranian rial has plunged to new lows against the U.S. dollar in recent days due to the temporary economic shutdown, border closures and halt in non-oil exports, according to analysts.

Iran’s economic problems had already worsened since 2018, when President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a landmark nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic republic, targeting vital oil sales and banking facilities.

Those woes have been exacerbated by the country’s coronavirus outbreak.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said Saturday there had been 2,456 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s caseload to 220,180.

Lari added in televised remarks that 125 of those infected had died during the same period, with overall fatalities reaching 10,364.

Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in daily recorded infections.

The health ministry launched an “#Iwearmask” campaign on Saturday and pleaded with Iranians to observe guidelines aimed at curbing infections.

Iran’s government has refrained from imposing a mandatory lockdown on people to rein in the disease, but there have been calls for mask-wearing to be made compulsory.

“Every 33 seconds one Iranian is infected with the coronavirus and every 13 minutes one dies from it. This is a warning, for us to better observe social distancing,” said deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi.

“I desperately – and in a friendly way – plead with people to cooperate in observing medical protocols for their own sake and that of others.”

Wearing a face covering to avoid spreading the virus is not mandatory in Iran and the guidance is widely flouted.

Speaking on state television, he said that wearing masks reduced the risk of the spread of the virus by 85 percent.

(With input from AFP and Reuters)

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