Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has not appeared in public for more than two weeks, prompting speculation that he could have contracted coronavirus as many other Iranian officials have done so.
Iran has been one of the worst hit countries by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with the official toll listing 17,361 infected and 1,315 dead as of Wednesday – and unofficial tolls putting the number far higher. The country has experienced a particularly high concentration of cases among government officials, with at least 15 reported deaths including several prominent MPs and advisers to Khamenei.
Khamenei himself canceled his appearance to speak at Persian New Year last week, citing public health concerns, and has not been seen since. He was last seen in public planting trees on Iran’s National Tree Planting Day, March 3, though his Twitter account has been active.
Given the context – Khamenei is 81 years old and may have come into contact with officials who have coronavirus – some have speculated whether Khamenei himself has contracted the virus.
Graeme Wood, writing for The Atlantic, speculated as to why Khamenei could not have given the Persian New Year speech from a studio and cited rumors on Twitter that Iran’s Supreme Leader had caught the virus.
“Couldn’t Khamenei just give his speech from a studio? Is this not the ideal opportunity, the first day of spring, to discuss the process of renewal that Iran will have to undertake to recommit itself to the ideals of its revolution?” wrote Wood.
The question everyone is asking in Iran: Where is the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—and does he have coronavirus?— Graeme Wood (@gcaw) March 17, 2020
His advisers have it. He canceled regular appearances. And he is almost 81 years old….
“For the past two weeks, speculation has been rampant. Surely, say the rumors, Khamenei has the virus—or if he doesn’t, it’s because he has entered Howard Hughes–like seclusion, behind a flaming moat of Purell,” he added. Howard Hughes was an American billionaire who had obsessive compulsive disorder and spent his life trying to avoid germs, while Purell is a popular brand of hand sanitizer.
It is important to note that there is no evidence that Khamenei has the virus, only speculation which builds on criticism of Iranian officials’ handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
While Iran has now shifted to an active strategy of deploying Revolutionary Guards on the streets and urging people to stay at home, it had been previously criticized for downplaying the number of cases and dismissing the seriousness of the outbreak.