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.

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  4. Public health: Four former CDC heads say Trump's undermining of agency puts lives at risk — CDC director: U.S. could get coronavirus "under control" in 4–8 weeks if all wear masks.

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