Iran accuses foreign media of using virus to 'discourage' voters

TEHRAN, Iran – Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday, February 23, accused foreign media of trying to use a deadly outbreak of coronavirus in Iran to "discourage" people from voting in a general election.

"This negative propaganda began a few months ago and grew larger approaching the election and in the past two days, under the pretext of an illness and a virus, their media did not miss the slightest opportunity to discourage people from voting," said Khamenei.

"(Our enemies) are even opposed to any election by the Iranian people," the leader was quoted as saying on his official website.

Iranians voted in a parliamentary election on Friday, two days after the announcement of an outbreak of the new coronavirus in the country.

A low turnout had already been expected after a conservative-dominated electoral watchdog disqualified thousands of candidates, most of them moderates and reformists.

Khamenei lauded the people's "huge participation" in the vote.

The COVID-19 outbreak has claimed the lives of 5 people in the Islamic republic since Wednesday. They were the first deaths in the Middle East.

Authorities have ordered as a "preventive measure" the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across the country from Sunday.

They include the holy city of Qom where the first cases emerged as well as Markazi, Gilan, Ardabil, Kermanshah, Qazvin, Zanjan, Mazandaran, Golestan, Hamedan, Alborz, Semnan, Kurdistan and the capital, Tehran.

Tehran's city hall has ordered the closure of snack shops and water fountains in metro stations, officials said Sunday.

Gholamreza Mohammadi, the public relations head of Tehran municipality, said buses and underground trains were being disinfected.

Posters were also being put up across the sprawling city on Sunday, asking people not to shake hands as part of a coronavirus prevention campaign.

The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the speed at which COVID-19 has spread in Iran, as well as it being exported from the Islamic republic to other countries, including Lebanon. – Rappler.com