Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a live speech on state TV for the Persian new year, praised Iranians for their “dazzling” sacrifices to fight the coronavirus outbreak in the worst-affected country in the Middle East.

“These acts of sacrifice were made by medical groups, physicians, nurses, assistants, managers and the staff working in hospitals,” said Khamenei, who looked healthy despite rumours that he had been infected with the new coronavirus that has killed 1,284 people in Iran.

Officials close to Khamenei, when contacted by Reuters on Wednesday, denied the rumours.

“All these phenomena are a source of dignity and reputation,” said Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters.

Nowruz, or “new day” in Persian, is an ancient celebration and the most important date in the calendar, when families gather and exchange gifts. But the coronavirus has overshadowed the celebrations.

“Last year was a tumultuous year for the Iranian nation,” said Khamenei. “It was a year that began with the floods and that ended with the coronavirus … but we will overcome all hardships with unity.”

He named the new Iranian year, “the year of boosting production”.

In a separate message, President Hassan Rouhani said Iranians praised doctors and nurses for their courage in fighting the disease.

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