Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Photo: Iranian Supreme Leader Press Office/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday refused assistance from the United States to help fight the coronavirus outbreak in his country, citing a conspiracy theory that accuses the U.S. military of developing and spreading the virus, AP reports.

Why it matters: Iran has reported more than 20,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,600 deaths, making it one of the hardest-hit countries in the world. Its economy was already in free-fall mostly due to sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

  • The conspiracy theory Khamenei used is the same one being spread by some Chinese officials to deflect blame for the pandemic.

What he's saying: “I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?” Khamenei said, according to AP. “Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more.”

  • “You might send people as doctors and therapists, maybe they would want to come here and see the effect of the poison they have produced in person,” he said.
  • Khameini also alleged without evidence that the virus “is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians which they have obtained through different means.”

The big picture: Iranian officials have criticized offers of aid from the U.S., claiming they are disingenuous.

  • U.S. sanctions have blocked Iran from selling its crude oil and accessing international financial markets.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday that "the whole world should know that humanitarian assistance to Iran is wide open, it’s not sanctioned. ... They’ve got a terrible problem there and we want that humanitarian, medical assistance to get to the people of Iran."

One person dies in Iran every 10 minutes from the coronavirus, and someone is infected every 50 minutes, according to the Health Ministry.

  • Iran on Sunday enacted a two-week closure on major shopping centers in the country. Only pharmacies, supermarkets, groceries and bakeries remain open.

Go deeper: Coronavirus could force the world into an unprecedented depression

Go deeper

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 32,471,119 — Total deaths: 987,593 — Total recoveries: 22,374,557Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 7,032,524 — Total deaths: 203,657 — Total recoveries: 2,727,335 — Total tests: 99,483,712Map.
  3. States: "We’re not closing anything going forward": Florida fully lifts COVID restaurant restrictions — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tests positive for coronavirus.
  4. Health: Young people accounted for 20% of cases this summer.
  5. Business: Coronavirus has made airports happier places The expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance looms.
  6. Education: Where bringing students back to school is most risky.
Mike Allen, author of AM
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