Iran mandates masks as virus cases rise

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has set an example by wearing a protective face mask.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has set an example by wearing a protective face mask.

Iran has instituted mandatory mask-wearing as fears mount over newly spiking reported deaths from the coronavirus, even as its public increasingly shrugs off the danger of the COVID-19 illness.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicised an image of himself in a mask in recent days, urging both public officials and the Islamic Republic's 80 million people to wear them to stop the virus' spread.

But public opinion polling and a walk through any of the streets of Tehran show the widespread apathy felt over a pandemic that hit Iran in February, making it among the first countries struck after China.

Whether rooted in fatigue, dismissal or fatalism, that indifference has scared Iranian public health officials into issuing increasingly dire warnings.

"Let me first thank our great people," a health worker in a hazmat suit in a hospital corridor sarcastically bellows in one dark state TV spot.

"You hand in hand with the coronavirus defeated us!"

The new rules require those in Tehran's subway, riding buses or indoors to wear them.

President Hassan Rouhani said those seeking "public services" also will be required to wear a mask.

Up until this point, wearing a mask in Iran had been encouraged but remained a personal choice.

Australian Associated Press