Iran has decided to recognise doctors and nurses who die containing the new coronavirus as “martyrs” like slain soldiers, the country’s supreme leader announced on Tuesday.
The deadly epidemic virus killed 54 more people and pushed the nation’s death toll to 291.
The decision by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes amid a propaganda campaign already trying to link the fight against the virus to Iran’s long, bloody 1980s war with Iraq.
The rising casualty figures each day in Iran suggest the fight against the new coronavirus is far from over, even as more people die from drinking methanol in the false belief it kills the virus.
Across the Mideast, over 8,600 people have contracted the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes.
The majority come from hard-hit Iran, which has one of the world’s worst death tolls outside of China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
In mainland China, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and over 58,000 have so far recovered.
On Tuesday, Iranian Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour offered new casualty figures for the virus, which represented an 18 per cent increase in deaths from the day before and 12 per cent more confirmed cases.
Jahanpour warned figures in Iran likely will continue to rise before the Persian New Year, Nowruz, on March 20.
He urged people to limit their travel, which already has been difficult for police manning checkpoints on roads between major cities. Iran has yet to take widespread quarantine decisions like China and Italy.
“The rate of spreading disease is still rising,” Jahanpour told a televised news conference.
Khamenei meanwhile announced that those who die medically combating the virus will be considered martyrs in the Islamic Republic.
The families of martyrs, typically from the security services and armed forces, receive payments and benefits from the state.
It also bestows a sense of religious importance on those fighting the virus in the Shiite theocracy, which experts fear may be under reporting the total number of cases.
Khamenei separately announced he would not be giving his annual Nowruz speech in the holy Shiite city of Mashhad.