Pompeo and Khamenei in Twitter feud over coronavirus

US Secretary of State dismisses claim that Iran was targeted by a biological attack

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on March 3, 2020 shows him speaking in a microphone in a garden after a tree-planting ceremony marking the week of "Natural Resources" in the capital Tehran. Khamenei called on Iranians to stick to hygiene guidelines to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading. "The health care guidelines for preventing infection from this virus should be observed," he said on state television while wearing gloves as he planted a tree. The supreme leader said Iran was being transparent with its figures on the outbreak and accused other countries of trying to conceal them. - === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / KHAMENEI.IR" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
 / AFP / KHAMENEI.IR / - / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / KHAMENEI.IR" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has rubbished claims by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Iran has been targeted by a biological attack amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With 118 countries reporting cases of coronavirus and the World Health Organisation declaring it a pandemic, the respiratory illness is now a global concern.

Despite this, Iran's supreme leader took to Twitter to claim the coronavirus outbreak was a "biological attack" against Iran.

Mr Khamenei ordered the Iranian armed forces to establish a medical base to prevent the spread of the disease, calling on them to use all "necessary methods" and to divide duties between the different divisions of the armed forces. He said the medical base can be "regarded as a biological defence exercise".

Iran has confirmed more than 10,000 cases and 429 deaths due to coronavirus.

Mr Pompeo denounced Mr Khamenei's comments and criticised the country's coronavirus response measures, slamming Iran for withholding information from citizens, allowing flights to China to continue and jailing Iranians speaking out about the severity of the disease.

"The best biological defence would’ve been to tell the Iranian people the truth about the Wuhan virus when it spread to Iran from China," he said.

Mr Pompeo's comments come as the US administration is facing criticism from the medical sector for delaying response measures. The leading US infectious disease official said the testing system in the country is failing.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said "the system is not really geared to what we need right now ... let's admit it".

Medical experts have said that mass testing is an effective measure to contains outbreaks. But because of the scarcity of testing kits in the US, doctors, acting upon the advice of the Centres for Disease Control, have been restricting the number of tests being conducted.

Medical experts have faulted the US for delaying mass testing that would help the country to identify outbreaks and contain them.

The US had confirmed at least 1,663 cases and 40 deaths by Friday.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al Sadr also attempted to blame the coronavirus on the US, telling President Donald Trump that he would not accept any medicine from Americans.

"Trump, you have filled the world with wars, occupations and poverty, and now you claim that you are the healer. But this disease is spreading because of your awful policies," he said in a statement.

Mr Al Sadr said he and his supporters would rely solely on God for treatment, although medical experts have advised anyone suffering symptoms of the virus to seek urgent medical care.

Iraq has reported eight deaths from 71 cases, an unusually high mortality rate that suggests there may be more unreported cases.

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