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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting of the government task force on the coronavirus, in Tehran, Iran, on March 21, 2020.

OFFICIAL PRESIDENTIAL WEBSITE/Reuters

The United States should lift sanctions if it wants to help Iran to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday, adding that Iran had no intention of accepting Washington’s offer of humanitarian assistance.

Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by coronavirus, with over 1,800 deaths and 23,049 infected people. One person is dying from the virus every 10 minutes, according to the health ministry.

“American leaders are lying … If they want to help Iran, all they need to do is to lift sanctions .... Then we can deal with the coronavirus outbreak,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.

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Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to its long-time foe. But the country’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday rejected the offer.

Tension between the two countries has been running high since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

Iranian authorities have blamed U.S. sanctions for hampering its efforts to curb the outbreak and Rouhani has urged Americans to call on their government to lift sanctions as Iran fights the coronavirus.

“U.S. is NOT listening, impeding global fight against #COVID19. The ONLY remedy: DEFY U.S. mass punishment. MORAL & PRAGMATIC imperative,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Monday.

But the United States has sent Iran a blunt message: the spread of the virus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.

“You have blocked Iran’s oil exports, you have stopped Iran’s banking transactions … Your help offer is the biggest lie in the history,” Rouhani said.

Although police said millions of people have defied advice to avoid travelling for the Persian new year holidays, Rouhani praised Iranians for avoiding public places during the holidays. Iran’s new year started on Friday.

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Even those who travelled stayed at homes of their relatives, Rouhani said.

On Sunday, the government ordered shopping centres to close in Tehran, where only pharmacies and shops that provided essential goods remain open.

Iran’s Army has been ordered to set up a hospital with 2,000 beds in Tehran “within two days for the treatment of the coronavirus patients”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported on Monday.

The outbreak has infected a number of senior officials, politicians, clerics, members of the elite Revolutionary Guards and dozens of lawmakers in Iran. At least a dozen of them have died from the coronavirus.

“The lawmakers have been infected because they travelled to their towns and were in close contact with people ahead of the parliamentary election on February 21,” Parliament speaker Ali Larijani told state TV.

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