Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has lashed out at criticism of the country’s lagging response to the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, saying the government has to consider economic concerns as it takes measures to contain the pandemic.
Mr Rouhani spoke out as authorities recorded a further 123 virus-related deaths on Sunday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,640.
Iran has reported more than 38,000 cases of the virus since the outbreak began.
Mr Rouhani said authorities had to consider the effect of a mass quarantine on Iran’s beleaguered economy, which is under heavy US sanctions.
It’s a dilemma concerning countries across the globe, as leaders struggle to strike a balance between restricting human contact and keeping their economies from crashing.
“Health is a principle for us, but the production and security of society is also a principle for us,” Mr Rouhani said at a Cabinet meeting.
“We must put these principles together to reach a final decision.
“This is not the time to gather followers. This is not a time for political war.”
Even before the pandemic, Mr Rouhani was under fire for the unravelling of the 2015 nuclear deal he signed with the US and other world powers.
US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the agreement and imposed crippling sanctions on Iran that prevent it from selling oil on international markets. Iran has rejected US offers of humanitarian aid.
Most people suffer only minor coronavirus symptoms, such as fever and coughing and recover within a few weeks.
But the virus can cause severe illness and death, especially in elderly patients or those with underlying health problems.
It is highly contagious and can be spread by those showing no symptoms.
In recent days, Iran has ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and banned travel between cities.
But those measures came long after other countries in the region imposed lockdowns.
Many Iranians are still flouting orders to stay home in what could reflect a widespread distrust of authorities.
Iran has urged the international community to lift sanctions and is seeking a $5 billion (Dh18.36bn) loan from the International Monetary Fund.