Tehran: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani in separate new year messages vowed to overcome the coronavirus and increase economic growth.
Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, called the new year the year of leaps in production in Iran's economy. He said the country's 80 million people are in a position to boost domestic production alongside the country's exports.
Rouhani marked the new year, known as Nowruz, by promising a better economy and called the coronavirus an uninvited destructive guest. The Iranian leaders' optimistic tone Friday stood in stark contrast to the devastation caused by the outbreak. The country has had 1,284 fatalities out of 18,407 confirmed cases of the new virus.
Rouhani has defended his government's response to the coronavirus outbreak in the face of widespread criticism that officials acted too slowly and may have even covered up initial cases before infections rapidly spread across the country.
Rouhani reviewed what he referred to as achievements last year. They ncluded shooting down a sophisticated U.S. drone and missile strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of a top Revolutionary Guard general in Baghdad.
Rouhani assured Iranians that his administration will keep health as its top priority in the new year and said his administration has stockpiled sufficient basic needs of the country more than before.
Saudi Arabia announced early Friday it would shut down domestic air travel, buses, taxis and trains for the next two weeks, beginning on Saturday morning. The state-run Saudi Press Agency cited an anonymous official at the Interior Ministry making the announcement.