Iran warns of months of crisis as virus deaths reach 3,160



A photo taken on March 13th shows Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the wild spread of novel coronavirus. [AFP]

Iran on Thursday (April 2nd) reported 124 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, raising its total to 3,160, as President Hassan Rouhani warned that the country may still battle the pandemic for another year.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced the latest toll in a news conference and confirmed 3,111 new infections over the past 24 hours, bringing Iran's total to 50,468.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the COVID-19 outbreak since it reported its first cases on February 19th.

After weeks of refraining from imposing a lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided last week to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8th.

Earlier on Wednesday Iran hit out at US sanctions, with Rouhani accusing Washington of missing a "historic opportunity" to lift the sanctions.

Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the US sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process purchases for fear of incurring large penalties in the US.

On Tuesday, European nations delivered medical goods to Iran in the first transaction under the Instex mechanism set up to bypass sanctions on Tehran, the German foreign ministry said.

"France, Germany and the UK confirm that Instex has successfully concluded its first transaction, facilitating the export of medical goods from Europe to Iran. These goods are now in Iran," the ministry said in a statement.

The first successful transaction comes over a year after Britain, France and Germany announced the creation of Instex.

"Now the first transaction is complete, Instex and its Iranian counterpart STFI will work on more transactions and enhancing the mechanism," Berlin said.

Britain, France and Germany were among a list of countries that Iran reported receiving medical aid from earlier in March as it battles the novel coronavirus.

US President Donald Trump said on February 29th that Washington was ready to help Iran fight the virus if its leaders requested it.

Yet Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said March 22nd his country would never accept any aid from the US despite becoming a growing threat epicentre to world health with its increasing number of infected and its ill-advised policies in fighting the virus.

Iran will pay 'heavy price'

Meanwhile, Trump warned Iran on Wednesday of a "heavy price" if it or its allies in Iraq attack US troops stationed there.

"We don't want hostility, but if they are hostile to us, they're going to regret it like they've never regretted anything before," he said of Iran at a White House press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic.

"If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!" Trump tweeted earlier in the day.

The US president also wrote: "Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on US troops and/or assets in Iraq."

Some 7,500 foreign troops are in Iraq as part of the US-led coalition helping local troops fight the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), but those numbers are being significantly drawn down this month.

The alliance is temporarily bringing some trainers home as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus pandemic and is also leaving some Iraqi bases altogether.

Those bases and foreign embassies, particularly the American mission, have been targeted in more than two dozen rocket strikes since late October.

The US has blamed the attacks on an Iran-backed Iraqi armed militia.

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