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Coronavirus: Iran requests $5bn IMF loan to fight disease, as cases reach 10,075

Tehran confirms that it has recorded 1,075 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours across Iran
Pakistani pilgrims returning from Iran are scanned at the border for COVID-19 (AFP)

Iran has requested a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund for the first time in nearly 60 years to help fight the new coronavirus disease. 

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The request was made hours before the Iranian health ministry confirmed on Thursday that it has recorded 1,075 new cases of the virus, also known as COVID-19, in the last day with the death toll rising to 429. 

Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state television that there are now 10,075 infected people in the country.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that Iran's central bank had made the request for a $5bn loan after the IMF said it was making funds available for countries affected by COVID-19 via its Rapid Financial Instrument.  

"Our central bank requested access" to the IMF's Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter, urging the fund's board to respond to the request "responsibly". 

Iran's 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 U.S. dollar from the RFI emergency fund to help our fight against the coronavirus".

The last time Iran requested a loan from the IMF was in 1962, more than a decade before the Islamic Revolution took place in 1978. 

Worst affected country in the Middle East 

Iran is now the worst affected country in the Middle East and the third worldwide, and has become the epicentre for the virus in the region.

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Several countries, including Bahrain and Kuwait, have recorded cases of COVID-19 from individuals who had come back from Iran. 

The outbreak in the Islamic Republic has prompted authorities to temporarily release around 70,000 prisoners to contain the spread of the illness, which has now spread to all Iranian cities. 

Among those who contracted the virus are 24 Iranian officials and lawmakers, including Iran's first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri.

At least seven officials and lawmakers, including an adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have died from the virus. 

The 63-year-old is one of 24 Iranian officials and lawmakers to be infected with the virus, according to Fars news agency

Coronavirus spread swiftly in Iran and became one of the deadliest outbreaks outside China's Hubei province, where the virus originated in the city of Wuhan.

Iranian officials are concerned about the spread of the virus during the national Nowruz holiday on 20 March, when Iranians celebrate the new year.