Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, has accused American authorities of "producing the coronavirus" and said that is why Iran does not seek help from the United States to combat the outbreak.
Mr Khamenei, addressing US officials during a live television speech, said: "You are accused of producing the virus yourself." He added that he did not know how true the allegation was and did not present any evidence for his claim.
The Iranian leader said the United States may try to send materials to Iran in the form of drugs and medical assistance – with the agenda of making the coronavirus “last” longer. And he said that perhaps the coronavirus was designed specifically to target Iran and that the US offered to send medical aid in order to assess the impact of its virus. Ayatollah Khamenei had previously put forward the same conspiracy theories.
The Supreme Leader’s comments came despite a recent study, published in the scientific journal Nature, showed that the genetic structure of the new coronavirus had evolved from within the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) family. Other scientific studies have yet to contradict this finding and no reputable journals have published studies suggesting that the coronavirus was man-made.
The findings have not hindered speculation on social media, across several countries, that the new coronavirus is an experimental biological weapon that escaped a laboratory.
A television program in Iran even suggested that the coronavirus was designed to kill Iranians and that the death toll in Italy has been high because of genetic similarities between people from Iran and Italy.
A week ago, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson also raised the possibility of US involvement in the coronavirus outbreak, saying: "It may be that the US military brought the disease to Wuhan."
But Ayatollah Khamenei is one of the most senior world figures to make such a public statement. The latest reports from around the world show, however, that China and Italy so far have more victims than Iran and that the coronavirus disease is rapidly spreading to countries such as Spain, Germany and even the United States.