Iran asks IMF for first loan in decades as virus death toll hits 429

Iran asks IMF for first loan in decades as virus death toll hits 429
Iran has requested financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund as it struggles to contain COVID-19.
3 min read
12 March, 2020
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Iran requested a loan from the IMF [Presidency of Iran/Getty]

Iran said on Thursday that it has sought immediate financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help it combat one of the world's deadliest coronavirus outbreaks.

According to a tweet by Iran's top diplomat, IMF chief Kristina Georgieva had "stated that countries affected by #COVID19 will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument (RFI)".

"Our central bank requested access to this facility immediately," Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif added on his Twitter account.

Iran on Thursday reported 75 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest single-day toll since the Islamic Republic announced the first deaths from the outbreak on February 19.

It took the overall death toll to 429 out of a total of more than 10,000 confirmed cases of infection.

Iran has not received assistance from the IMF since a "standby credit" issued between 1960 and 1962, according to the fund's data.

Zarif said the IMF and its board "should adhere to fund's mandate, stand on right side of history and act responsibly".

The various loans that can be granted by the IMF must be approved by the institution's executive board, where the United States practically has a veto on decisions.

The US is currently pursuing a policy of "maximum pressure" aimed at crippling the finances of Iran's government.

In an Instagram post picked up by state news agency IRNA, central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati claimed to have formally requested access to RFI by letter on 6 March.

"Given the widespread prevalence of coronavirus in our country and the need to continue to take strong measures to prevent and cure (the disease), and to address its economic impact," Iran was asking for "about $5 billion" in assistance, Hemmati wrote on his Instagram account.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for Iran to be given more support in its fight to bring the outbreak under control.

"Iran is doing its best... We are trying to mobilise more support for Iran," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva, adding that the country needed more supplies.

According to the IMF's website, the RFI "provides rapid financial assistance, which is available to all member countries facing an urgent balance of payments need".

Meanwhile Iran's health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said Thursday that 1,075 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours "bringing the total number of infected people to 10,075 cases".

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Iran is one of the deadliest outside China, where the disease originated.

Read also: No Nowruz? Iran braces for major changes to New Year celebrations

It is yet to officially impose quarantines but authorities have repeatedly called on people to refrain from travelling.

They have closed schools and universities and resorted to shutting hotels and other tourist accommodation to discourage travel.

Ahead of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year holidays that start this year on 20 March, authorities in several provinces have issued orders to close hotels and other tourist accommodation.

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