Iran accuses 'enemies' of using virus to sabotage vote

An Iranian woman wearing face mask walks on a street of Teheran, Iran, on Feb 22, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran's supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use a deadly coronavirus outbreak to sabotage a general election, as authorities scrambled on Sunday (Feb 23) to contain the disease.

The final results of the parliamentary election are due on Sunday, two days after they were held on the heels of the confirmation of novel coronavirus cases in the country.

A low turnout had been widely forecast, as a conservative-dominated electoral watchdog disqualified about half the 16,000-odd candidates, mostly moderates and reformists.

Voter apathy marked the polls, but Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday lauded the people's "huge participation" despite what he termed "this negative propaganda".

It "began a few months ago and grew larger approaching the election and in the past two days, under the pretext of an illness and a virus," he said.

"Their media did not miss the slightest opportunity to discourage people from voting. (Our enemies) are even opposed to any election by the Iranian people," the leader was quoted as saying on his official website.

The Covid-19 outbreak has claimed the lives of five people in the Islamic republic since Wednesday. They were the first deaths from the disease in the Middle East.

Authorities have ordered as a "preventive measure" the closure of schools, universities and other educational centres in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday.

They include the holy city of Qom where the first cases emerged as well as Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan, Kurdistan and the capital, Teheran.

Art events, concerts and film shows have been banned for a week.


Health Minister Saeed Namaki said on Sunday on state television that treatment of Covid-19 cases would be free.

"In every city, one hospital will be dedicated to treating coronavirus cases," he said, adding that this number would be greater in bigger cities like the capital.

Teheran's city hall has ordered the closure of snack shops and water fountains in metro stations, officials said.

Mr Gholamreza Mohammadi, spokesman of Teheran municipality, said buses and underground trains were being disinfected.

Mr Mohsen Hashemi, the head of Teheran's municipal council, said, "If the number of infections increases in Teheran, the whole city will be quarantined."

Posters were also being put up across the sprawling city on Sunday, asking people not to shake hands as part of a coronavirus prevention campaign.

Iran's cyber police meanwhile warned that anyone putting "fake clips" online related to the virus would be punished.

The World Health Organisation has expressed concern over the speed at which Covid-19 has spread in Iran, as well as it being exported from the Islamic republic to other countries, including Lebanon.

Iran has yet to confirm the origin of the outbreak, but one official had speculated that it was brought in by Chinese workers.

Although official figures are still coming in, Iran's conservatives look set for a landslide win in the 290-seat Parliament.

If the conservatives' resurgence is confirmed, it will mean President Hassan Rouhani's slender majority of reformists and moderates elected with fanfare four years ago is nearly purged.

The 11th parliamentary election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution comes after a surge in tensions between Teheran and Washington, and Iran's accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner that sparked anti-government protests.

Turnout was estimated at around 40 percent nationwide and 30 percent in Teheran at the scheduled close of polls on Friday, according to Fars news agency.

But authorities extended polling for another six hours to allow as many people as possible to vote.

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