JERUSALEM, Israel – A top Iranian cleric said the country’s citizens can use a future coronavirus vaccine developed by Israel if “there is no substitute.”
“It is not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists and Israel,” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi told the Iranian newspaper Hamdeli on Wednesday. “Unless the treatment is unique and there is no substitute…then this is not an obstacle.”
Israel and Iran are sworn enemies but the COVID-19 pandemic is devastating the Islamic Republic.
For the first time sine the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran asked the International Monetary Fund on Thursday for a $5 billion loan to fight the coronavirus. The request reveals just how big of a toll the outbreak has had on Iran’s economy, which has already been weakened by US sanctions.
Iran says it needs face masks, testing kits, ventilators, surgical gowns, and other medical supplies. The World Health Organization recently sent Iran medical aid, including 1,100 test kits that can test more than 105,000 people for COVID-19.
Iran’s Health Ministry said the death toll is at 429 and more than 10,000 Iranians have the disease. However, experts believe the numbers are much higher than what the government is reporting. Among the dead are two dozen parliament members, a close advisor to the Supreme Leader, and a former diplomat, The Washington Post reports. Dozens of other officials, including the vice president, have also been infected with COVID-19.
Shortly after the coronavirus hit Iran, the government began digging mass graves in the city of Qom to accommodate all the casualties, according to The New York Times.
Iran has suspended schools and closed stadiums. However, religious sites remain open and the markets and streets of Tehran, which has been hit hardest by the virus, are still bustling with people.
Iranian leaders like Revolutionary Guard leader Gen. Hossein Salami are peddling the conspiracy theory that the US created the virus.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday there was “some evidence [to] suggest possibility of biological attack” through the virus, and ordered armed forces to set up mobile hospitals.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, all enemies of Iran, accuse the country of acting irresponsibly, censorship, and being directly responsible for the rise of cases in the Middle East.