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Iran's Rouhani Asks Khamenei For $1 Billion To Fight Coronavirus

Members of Iranian Red Crescent test people with possible coronavirus Covid-19 symptoms, as police blocked Tehran to Alborz highway to check every car following ordered by the Iranian government, outside Tehran, March 26, 2020

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani says he has sent a letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei seeking his permission to withdraw one billion dollars from the country's foreign currency reserve to spend on the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking at a meeting of his administration's economic committee on Thursday March 26, Rouhani said that his Health Ministry needs $1 billion for the next three months to control the outbreak.

He said the sum is to be spent particularly on hospital equipment, public health and hygienic needs.

The foreign currency reserve, officially known as the National Development Fund is a government institution that is meant to safekeep Iran's national wealth and is not supposed to make up for budget deficits. However, it is not clear how much foreign currency has been saved in the fund.

Nevertheless, following a U.S. attack near Baghdad airport which killed the IRGC's Qods Force Commander in January, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said that Khamenei has allocated €200 million ($220m) out of the fund to the Qods Force.

He had also given several hundreds of millions of dollars to the IRGC and the state-owned TV IRIB in previous years out of the fund originally set up to save for Iran's future generations.

While demanding the hard currency, Rouhani continued his usual bravado about the country's economic potentials. "We are in a better position than many other countries in the world although we have been under pressure by U.S. sanctions," he said.

While many COVID-19 patients are suffering in makeshift beds in hospital corridors and car parks he said on Wednesday there were many empty hospital beds in Iranian hospitals.

Rouhani had said in January that Iran has lost $200 billion during the past three years primarily as a result of the sanctions primarily in lost oil sale and restrictions on international banking operations.

The United States has sanctioned Iran's oil export and says Iran spends its oil revenue to fund international terrorist groups and develop its ballistic missile program as well as its controversial nuclear program.

The coronavirus outbreak in Iran has claimed at least three thousand lives as of March 26 based on an exclusive Radio Farda report which summed up the figures given away by local officials. However, official statistics tend to play down the problem. The latest announcement by the government on Thursday put the number of deaths over 2,200 and the number of patients under 30,000.

The Rouhani administration has so far refused to introduce quarantine regulations to control the outbreak. However, in a belated measure announced on March 25, Iranian officials broke the news about travel restrictions, social distancing and quasi-lockdowns to be started "soon."

The Iranian government has been criticized to allow millions of Iranian to go on Nowruz New Year holidays in various parts of the country. The new directives are being issued while holiday makers are returning to their hometowns and experts believe this may lead to a renewed surge in the number of coronavirus patients.

Ali Rabiei, the spokesman for the Rouhani administration said following a meeting on Wednesday: "Travelers coming back to Tehran should no longer travel from town to town on their way to the capital. They should take direct routes via expressways to avoid multiple inspections. Passengers will be checked at the exits of the cities."

He added that "The Health Ministry and the Red Crescent are prepared to issue health certificates to passengers to facilitate their easy return."

Rabiei said that crowded centers in the cities such as parks and shops that do not provide the people's essential needs will be closed. He called on the people to cooperate with the officials in order to cut short the life cycle of the virus.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said: "Arrivals and departures in all cities will be controlled more seriously. Therefore, we ask the people to cooperate with the officers when this project starts on 26 or 27 March and contribute to the plan's success."