Iran asks IMF for first loan in decades to combat virus

A cleric talks with a patient at a hospital in Qom, south of the capital city Tehran. (AP pic)

TEHRAN: Iran said on Thursday that it has sought immediate financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund 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 #Covid-19 will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument (RFI)”.

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

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 United States 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 March 6.

“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 US$5 billion” in assistance, Hemmati wrote on his Instagram 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 Feb 19.

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

The World Health Organisation 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. “