Iran's Leaders on Nowruz amid COVID-19

In his annual address marking the Persian New Year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acknowledged that Iran had faced a difficult year “that began with the floods and that ended with the coronavirus.” He also listed the physical toll from earthquakes, the economic pressure of sanctions, and the confrontation with the United States that led to the death of Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. “The tests of 1398 were difficult ones, but overcoming and passing through such difficulties with good spirits makes a nation powerful. A nation will not reach anywhere with self-indulgence and simply seeking comfort,” he said. Khamenei gave his speech on Nowruz, the most important holiday in Iran, on state television; he canceled travel to the holy city of Mashhad due to the coronavirus crisis.  

Nowruz heralds the spring and is celebrated for two weeks in Iran. Traditions include spring cleaning, exchanging gifts, preparing symbolic foods, jumping over bonfires, and more. People usually travel to see friends and family in other cities.

Iran’s leaders pledged to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak. “We will put the coronavirus behind us soon with unity, with hard work and with cooperation,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address on Nowruz. By March 20, Iran reported 19,644 cases and 1,433 deaths—a death rate of 7.3 percent. Khamenei praised Iranians for making “dazzling” sacrifices in confronting the coronavirus.

Rouhani defended his government’s response to COVID-19 and pledged to prioritize health going forward. The government has faced domestic and international criticism for not taking decisive action sooner. Statements from health ministry officials and guidelines from Iran’s Civil Defense Organization suggest that officials were aware of the outbreak before the first case was reported on February 19. The government postponed implementing containment measures for three days, probably to ensure a decent turnout in parliamentary elections on February 21, according to IranWire. The regime cites voter turnout as an indicator of legitimacy.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Rouhani highlighted Iran’s achievements and resilience in the previous year. “They thought they would drive our country to a critical point in inflation and stagnation, but all the figures tell us that in the nine months of 1398, our economic growth has been positive and inflation has been contained as much as possible,” he said. 

Khamenei dubbed 1399 the year of “a surge” in domestic production. U.S. sanctions, reimposed in 2018, have curtailed Iran’s ability to export its oil and import goods. “If we can move production forward, God willing, economic problems will definitely come to an end and the sanctions that they imposed will prove to be to our advantage,” Khamenei said. He had also called for a boost in domestic production in 1398 but felt more effort was needed. The following are addresses by Iran’s leaders. 


Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Televised speech on March 20

"I wish to congratulate all the dear people of Iran on the auspicious Eid ul Mab’ath and on Eid-e Nowruz. In particular, I would like to congratulate the esteemed and honorable families of martyrs, the disabled war veterans, their patient and diligent family members, and the jihadists in the arena of health – who have performed brilliantly in recent weeks – and all diligent servants of the country who have undertaken part of the task in such difficult circumstances and who are busy rendering services in a sincere, enthusiastic and motivated manner in cities, in villages, on roads, on the borders and in each and every corner of the country. I congratulate all of them: May you have a happy Nowruz!

"I also wish to send greetings to the immaculate soul of our magnanimous Imam and the pure souls of the martyrs.


"I deem it necessary to express both my congratulations and my condolences to the families of the martyrs of the year 1398: whether the martyrs of defending the holy shrines and the martyrs of defending borders, especially our dear and great martyr – Shahid Soleimani, his companions and Shahid Abu Mahdi al Muhandis and his comrades as well as the martyrs of the Kerman incident, the martyrs of the airplane incident and the martyrs on the path of health.

"The latter are people who achieved the high rank of death and martyrdom in the way of God while they were rendering services to patients. I would like to express my condolences to their families and congratulate them on this eid and on the position of their children. I believe that all these incidents will turn out to be to the advantage of the Iranian nation. I will expand on this matter in a moment.

"The year 1398 was a tumultuous year for the Iranian nation. It was a year that began with the floods and that ended with the Coronavirus. Throughout the year too, various incidents happened to the country and to some people in the country: incidents like earthquakes, sanctions and the like. The peak of those incidents was the terrorist crime committed by the US, which was the martyrdom of the well-known Sardar of Iran and Islam, Shahid Soleimani. Throughout the year, the people had a large number of difficulties. The year passed like this. Therefore, it was a difficult year.

"However, the important point is that as well as such hardships, there were a number of achievements some of which were unprecedented. The Iranian nation shone brightly in the true sense of the word. In the floods which occurred at the beginning of the year, pious and determined people rushed towards flood-stricken provinces, cities and villages in order to help the people there. Our dear people – old and young – created a beautiful scenery by going to the flood-stricken areas. They washed the homes which were covered with mud and filth. They took the furniture out and washed it for the people in those areas. They did something to mitigate the hardships resulting from the flood for the people there. And following the great martyrdom of our dear martyr, the people launched a great movement by showing their presence – tens of millions of people – to the world.

"The gatherings that formed in Tehran, Qom, Ahwaz, Isfahan, Mashhad, Tabriz and Kerman were gatherings that are usually not seen in any part of the world with such large numbers and such motives. It was also unique in our own history. Popular presence and enthusiasm and the fact that the people showed what things they are attached to, was very important for the reputation and dignity of the Iranian nation. Regarding the recent disease – the spread of the Coronavirus – the sacrifices made were so dazzling that even foreigners felt obliged to admire them.

"Primarily, these acts of sacrifice were made by medical groups, physicians, nurses, assistants, managers and the staff working in hospitals. Alongside these people, there were volunteers from among the people, students, the clergy, Basijis and various individuals who helped the medical staff and who nursed patients. All these phenomena are a source of dignity and reputation. The people rushed to the help of physicians and doctors. There were also support groups, some of which offered their factories and even their houses with the aim of manufacturing the products needed for patients or for the masses of the people- products such as gloves, masks and the like.

"And there were public service groups such as the people who engaged in disinfecting streets or the places which are frequented by the people. Or the youth who decided to help the elderly by going to their door and doing their shopping for them. I can also mention the people who prepared goods and gave them to the people for free, including free gloves and masks. And some people helped salesmen and shopkeepers by not asking for rent. They said that the rent could be delayed and other such services rendered by the people.

"These are beauties that manifest themselves amidst difficult events. The Iranian nation showed its virtues through these groups and these tasks, some of which I referred to. I genuinely and sincerely thank all the individuals whom I referred to and I want them to know that divine rewards – both worldly and otherworldly – awaits them.

"Well, this was a difficult test. The tests of the 1398 were difficult ones, but overcoming and passing through such difficulties with good spirits makes a nation powerful. A nation will not reach anywhere with self-indulgence and simply seeking comfort. It is by confronting the difficulties and keeping one’s morale up in the face of difficulties that a nation will be successful. Thankfully, the Iranian nation has mastered this and it will continue to do so from now on too. This is what gives power and credit to nations.

"There is another noteworthy point in the face of these incidents – including natural incidents like floods, earthquakes and the like, the incidents fabricated by foreigners such as sanctions - as they make us pay attention to our weaknesses - and our natural weakness because they help us know that there is no room for arrogance.  We are all weak and vulnerable and the weaknesses that we face in the natural course of events – and the fact that we should know our weaknesses. We should avoid being arrogant and negligent, pay attention to God and ask Him to help: “He who calls anyone other than you will be disappointed. He who asks anyone other than You for help will suffer a loss and he who goes to the door of anyone other than You will be full of want”. These are the prayers of the month of Rajab.  You should only go to the door of the Divine House, if you go to any other house you will return disappointed, if you stretch out your hand to anything other than God, you will return empty-handed.  All causes in existence are Divine causes – He is the Cause of causes.  You should work with these causes, use these causes, but ask the Most High for the results and effects.  This is another point.

"As for the year 1399 which is about to begin, first of all, we ask Allah the Exalted to render this year the year of great victories and we ask the Imam of the Age - may our souls be sacrificed for him - who is the captain of this ship, to help his country reach the shore of salvation and to help and support the pious people of Iran. And I would like to say to the Iranian nation that as they confronted various events in a courageous manner and with good morale throughout all these years – not only in the year 1398 – they should confront subsequent events with hope and by keeping up their morale as well and they should rest assured that bitter events will pass: “Verily, with every difficulty there is relief” [The Holy Quran, 94: 6]. Relief will surely await the Iranian nation. There is no doubt about this.

"There are some people who think that there is a shortcoming of duties in some organizations of the country, but I do not agree with this. I am witnessing this up close and I see that everyone is busy working hard. Everyone is working within the scope of their capability. Scientific and research groups, social activists, and executive and judiciary officials are all busy working in different ways. Allah the Exalted will bless all these endeavors and will help the nation get through this difficult pass, safe and sound and with honor, God willing.

"As for the slogan of the year, the year 1398 was the year of boosting production and I will tell the Iranian nation that this slogan was welcomed in practice. In the beginning, experts welcomed it, saying that production was the main criterion, but it received a warm reception in practice as well. According to reliable reports that I have received, the production of the country moved forward. Some of the factories that had stopped working and that had closed down returned to work and in the case of those which worked below their capacity, they increased their capacity. Knowledge-based companies entered the arena and various organizations made good endeavors as a result of which, production was boosted.

"The issue of research which is the fountainhead of production was seriously pursued in the country and we witnessed instances of that. Well, these tasks have been carried out in the country and it is not the case that no work has been done. However, what I want to say is that what has already been done is not even one-tenth of what the country needs. Of course, “one-tenth” is not a hard statistical figure, but I estimate it to be around one-tenth. This means that we need to do ten times more work – including research, work related to production and various other tasks – so that boosting production can exert its effects in the lives of the people.

"In the year 1398, production was roused and it moved forward, but its effects in the lives of the people were not yet tangible. We should make production reach a point where it can influence the people’s lives. Of course, the economic issues of the country are many. There are issues such as reforming the banking system, the customs regulations, the taxing system and improving the business environment and other such issues, but the role of production is a unique and peerless one.

"Considering the large market that exists inside the country, if we manage to boost production, the main activity will be in our domestic market with our eighty-million population, despite the fact that production needs foreign markets. Of course, we can interact with foreign markets as well. If we can move production forward, God willing, economic problems will definitely come to an end and the sanctions that they imposed will prove to be to our advantage.

"Of course, they have inflicted some damage until now, but they have also generated profits as well because they have made us think about our own resources, about manufacturing products and about satisfying the needs of the country through relying on domestic resources. This is very valuable to us and by Allah’s favor, it will continue. Therefore, we continue to need production.

"Last year’s slogan was “Boosting Production”. This year, I want to say that we need a further surge in production - as the slogan of the year. This year is the year of “Surge in Production.” This is the slogan of the year. Officials should act in a way that production will witness a surge, God willing, and that there will be a tangible change in the lives of the people.

"Of course, this requires planning. The Planning and Budget Organization, the Islamic Consultative Majlis as well as its research center and the judiciary branch have a role, each in a different way. The judiciary branch has a part to play as well. Knowledge-based companies and young and innovative organizations, which are thankfully large in number, have a role to play as well. Throughout the year – the year 1398 – and the year before that, I had very good and valuable meetings with some of them. I saw them and listened to them up close. They are youth who are interested in working and who are really hopeful, energetic, motivated, talented and creative. Such groups of people thankfully exist and they should participate in planning. This task should move forward with planning, God willing.

"May all of you have a happy new year and a happy Eid ul-Mab’ath. I hope that you will receive Divine attention and that the Iranian nation will increase its spiritually and strengthen its spirit of paying attention to God and supplicating to Him on a daily basis."


President Hassan Rouhani

Televised speech on March 20

"Congratulations on the arrival of Nowruz to the entire Iranians throughout the country and overseas, and also those in the region who celebrate Nowruz.

"I would like to congratulate the New Year to all doctors, nurses and medical staff who are now beside our dear patients, especially those who have been infected with the virus.

"The year that passed was the year of incidents and epic points in history. The biggest incidents of our history happened and the proudest epic points were made in the history by our brave people.

"Rare floods at the beginning of last year caused many problems for our people in 25 provinces across the country.

"This caused 35 trillion tomans in damage and destroyed more than 68,000 houses. 80,000 houses were also in need of repair. During the year, most of the houses that needed to be rebuilt were reconstructed and all houses and buildings were mended and infrastructure was built.

"Great hardships and sadness were imposed on our people, but our nation remained steadfast in the flood, and then the next month, the most severe sanctions of history were imposed on our nation by global terrorists.

"Our oil industry was under the toughest historical sanctions and the pressure was on our economy from every side. They thought that with such intense pressure, our people would surrender, but our great nation resisted these hardships and created a new point in history.

"They thought they would drive our country to a critical point in inflation and stagnation, but all the figures tell us that in the nine months of 1398, our economic growth has been positive and inflation has been contained as much as possible.

"In the same year, the biggest economic projects of our country in recent decades were inaugurated; from huge refineries to different dams to the revival of the agricultural sector, to the great transformation in oil and gas and to the opening of the largest highways, roads and railways and ports.

"So we did not lose; we resisted America’s pressure, resisted and won in the International Court of Justice against the United States, and this court convicted the United States and we won in all international communities politically and publicly.

"What can be regarded as the fruit of recent technology was shot down by our air defense missiles at our southern border, proving that this nation is the creator of the greatest points in the history of our country.

"The system that downed the drone was 100% Iranian. Our air defense displayed its victory against modern American technology to the entire world.

"It did not take long for the United States to commit the cruelest assassination of history against our great commander, who was the commander of fighting terrorism.

"But our people and the nations of the region responded so strongly that they made it a great opportunity for resistance at the regional level. The funerals held in Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf, Ahwaz, Tehran, Mashhad, Qom, Kerman and all the Iranian people showed to the world that the Iranian nation is a grateful nation.

"Our warriors shattered their house of cards by showering one of their largest bases in the region with rockets. The slap was so strong that the United States is still unwilling to report its real casualties.

"Along with so many bitter and sweet incidents, we witnessed the unbelievable error of one person, which resulted in the loss of 176 dear ones, mostly our fellow Iranians, who were victim of the incident.

"At the end of the year, we encountered a destructive uninvited guest, not just us but also more than 150 countries and nations. Coronavirus put the lives and health of people at risk, but our doctors, nurses, hospitals and health centers came to the stage so bravely.

"Here I would like to point out one important point, that over the past six years the government has invested in two special things, both in health and Healthcare Reform Plan and the cyberspace and communications and the National Information Network, the positive effects of which can be felt better today.

"Today, the disease appeared when our hospital bed has doubled for the past 6 years and our hospital equipment is better than ever.

"Today, we need cyberspace and the best infrastructure for the information network has been set over the past six years.

"But what’s more dangerous than coronavirus, which is a disease that affects the body, is the mental illness we have to fight against.

"Who would have believed that in this difficult conditions and in this disease, some would want to play with the soul and health of the people, to speak in real and cyberspace to harass the souls of the people.

"We will overcome the physical coronavirus fast with unity, effort, cooperation, and the efforts of doctors; we must try to overcome the coronavirus of the soul. It is unity, solidarity and ethics that can build a good future for us.

"Here I would like to tell our dear people that year 1399 will be the year of major projects, the year of prosperity with the help of all people in the economy, and the year of change in people’s lives and our economic relations with the world and our interactions with our neighbors.

"Yet despite all the pressures in the year 1398, we have been able to be part of a major regional economic pact, the Eurasian Economic Union.

"These are happy moments for our dear and honorable people, we will pray more in the year 1399. We will raise our hands higher to the sky. He is the Healer, we ask Him health and prosperity and a better life because He is the Merciful and Beneficent God."


Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Video message from March 18

"Dear friends, my name is Javad Zarif, and I am the Foreign Minister of Iran. Today I'm not solely addressing you as my country's representative, but as a fellow human being. At a time when we Iranians normally celebrate Nowruz, our New Year concurrent with the arrival of Spring, we are faced with multiple and historic challenges.

"My country is among the hardest hit by the Coronavirus even as, like other nations, we are now learning how to better confront it. Sadly, a huge part of the danger Iranian's face is due to restrictions unjustly imposed on them by the United States Government. Iran today is the most intensely sanctioned country in history, not in line with United Nations decisions, but contrary to them. The economic siege imposed on us impedes all legitimate trade and deprives us from our own resources, the ones necessary to address the needs of our people, including their health and livelihoods. Even amid this pandemic the US government has vengefully refused to lift its unlawful and collective punishment, making it virtually impossible for us to even buy medicine and medical equipment. The bigger tragedy is that many companies and countries who officially oppose these sanctions have chosen to comply with them, perhaps in hopes of avoiding the future wrath of the United States, despite President Trump time and again proving that this is just wishful thinking.

"Dear friends allow me to be frank. We are all in this together. To better confront the virus, we need to better work together. But to get there, the war on multilateralism, international cooperation, and the rule of law must come to an end, and those who passively comply with the whims of unilateralist bullies must wake up to the reality that they're also responsible for the destructive ramifications of aggressive unilateralism. I can assure you that we Iranians, relying on millennia of civilizations and unified national resilience, will overcome these challenges and emerge as a stronger and more compassionate community. I wholeheartedly wish the same for all my fellow human beings.

"But we human beings are capable of adopting a more empathic, and eventually a more prudent, approach towards one another, one premised on mutual respect and equal footing. It takes real courage and moral imperative. And if we are to make the world that will emerge from COVID-19 a better one, it is vital that we seize the opportunity to forge a new path.

"Eight centuries ago our great poet Saadi wrote, "All human beings are members of one frame, since all at first from the same essence came. When time afflicts a limb with pain, the other limbs at rest cannot remain." I wish all who celebrate Norouz, and all of you and your loved ones good health, happiness, and a brighter year ahead. Thank you."