Iran asks IMF for $5bn emergency funding to fight coronavirus

Iran’s economy has been battered by US sanctions and now the virus poses an additional threat.

Coronavirus outbreak, in Mashhad, Iran
Iran is the country worst affected by the coronavirus in the Middle East with more than 10,000 people infected and at least 429 deaths [File: West Asia News Agency/third party via Reuters]

Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency funding to help it fight the coronavirus outbreak that has hit the Islamic republic hard, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday.

The escalating outbreak in Iran – the worst-affected country in the Middle East – has killed 429 people and infected 10,075. It has damaged Iranian businesses and is bound to hit its non-oil exports after many neighbouring countries and trade partners shut their borders.

The IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, “has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 (coronavirus) will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument (RFI). Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately”, Zarif said in a tweet.

Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati wrote on his Instagram page that “in a letter addressed to the head of IMF, I have requested five billion US dollars from the RFI emergency fund to help our fight against the coronavirus”.

Iran’s economy was already battered by United States sanctions that curb oil and gas exports crucial for government revenues. A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and a sustained closure of its borders are expected to lead to a contraction this year, analysts have said.

As Iran’s rulers struggle to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Tehran has blamed the US and its “maximum pressure” policy for restricting Iran’s ability to respond effectively to the virus.

In a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Zarif repeated Iran’s demand for US sanctions to be lifted, Iranian media reported.

US officials have said that the sanctions do not target medicine for Iran and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on February 29 that the US had offered to help Tehran face the outbreak. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman reportedly said that any US offer to help Iran in its fight against the coronavirus was “ridiculous”.

US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on the country. 

Source: Reuters