Iran has decided to recognise doctors and nurses who die combating the new coronavirus as "martyrs" like slain soldiers, the country's supreme leader announced Tuesday as the outbreak killed 54 more people and pushed the nation's death toll to 291. The decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes amid a propaganda campaign already trying to link the fight against the virus to Iran's long, bloody 1980s war with Iraq. The rising casualty figures each day in Iran suggest the fight against the new coronavirus is far from over, even as more people die from drinking methanol in the false belief it kills the virus.
Khamenei meanwhile announced that those who die medically combating the virus will be considered martyrs in the Islamic Republic. The families of martyrs, typically from the security services and armed forces, receive payments and benefits from the state. It also bestows a sense of religious importance on those fighting the virus in the Shiite theocracy, which experts fear may be under-reporting the total number of cases.
Across the Mideast, over 8,600 people have contracted the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. The majority come from hard-hit Iran, which has one of the world's worst death tolls outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak. On Tuesday, Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour offered new casualty figures for the virus, which represented an 18% increase in deaths from the day before and 12% more confirmed cases.
Jahanpour warned figures in Iran likely will continue to rise before the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on March 20. He urged people to limit their travel, which already has been difficult for police manning checkpoints on roads between major cities. Iran has yet to take widespread quarantine decisions like China and Italy. "The rate of spreading disease is still rising, Jahanpour told a televised news conference.
A rumor circulating in Iran that alcohol can treat coronavirus has so far led to 37 deaths and sent 270 people to the hospital after being poisoned by bootleg alcohol, the state-run IRNA news agency said Tuesday. Alcoholic beverages are illegal in Iran, but homemade brews in the southern city of Ahvaz apparently substituted toxic methanol for ethanol and used bleach to mask the color, Health Ministry official Ali Ehsanpour said. Seven bootleggers have been identified and arrested, said Ali Beiranvand, the deputy prosecutor in Ahvaz.
Iran's deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi was seen evidently discomforted and perspiring, hours before he was diagnosed for Coronavirus. Now in quarantine, the Iranian Minister was diagnosed for the deadly Coronavirus on February 26 , thus taking the number of cases to 95 in the Middle Eastern country and death toll to 15, as per IRNA.
In a room full of reporters and government officials, the Iranian Minister, prior to being officially diagnosed, even gave a television interview to an Iranian news channel. In the interview, shared vividly on social media, Iraj Harirchi was seen coughing continuously and wiping his nose. However, the Iranian Minister was not wearing a protective mask in either of these videos, thus putting the rest of those in the press conference and the TV news journalist in danger of the highly infectious virus.
(with AP inputs)