Al-Monitor – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made his second appearance in two weeks after the Islamic Republic officially announced the outbreak of the coronavirus in the country. Wearing a pair of protective gloves, Khamenei delivered his address March 3 in what appeared to be a garden at his Tehran residence. During the brief open-air speech, however, no cheering loyalists were present, as Iranian authorities have restricted public gatherings to prevent further coronavirus infections.
“I don’t mean to underestimate or overestimate the problem, but this issue will not stay in our country for a long time,” Khamenei said, adding that the ongoing fight against the epidemic will ultimately “serve as a public maneuver” for Iran. Khamenei’s current stance presents a contrast to his immediate reaction following the outbreak, when he reduced COVID-19 to a “so-called virus” used by Iran’s enemies to scare the nation away from voting in the Feb. 21 parliamentary elections. Those polls were marred by unprecedented voter apathy and a record low turnout in Iran’s history.
Khamenei further defended Iran’s handling of the epidemic as “transparent from day one,” accusing other countries of covering up their own coronavirus statistics. In recent days, the Iranian government has faced mounting criticism over what is perceived as mismanagement worsened by chaos, confusion and corruption. In its latest report March 3, Iran’s Health Ministry raised the death toll to 77, with the known infected population passing the 2,300 mark.
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