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Ex-soldier temporarily freed by Iran claims coronavirus symptoms, demands transfer to US

Iran has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 March, 2020

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US veteran Michael White, who has cancer, was temporarily freed from Iranian prison but demands to be transferred to the US on humanitarian grounds claiming he has contracted COVID-19.
A US Navy veteran released from an Iranian prison last week on a medical furlough says he is sick with symptoms of the coronavirus and is requesting a humanitarian evacuation to the United States for medical treatment.

Michael White was hospitalised on Wednesday in a ward for coronavirus patients in Iran and has experienced fever, fatigue, a cough and shortness of breath since his temporary leave last week, a family spokesman told AP.

White "is an immunocompromised cancer patient and his situation is urgent," Franks said. White has been tested for the coronavirus but the results have not yet come back.

White was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran and was later convicted of insulting Iran's supreme leader and posting private information.

He is among tens of thousands of prisoners granted temporary medical leave by Iran as the country tries to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which is feared to have spread rapidly in its overcrowded prisons.

White's family has said that he suffered from cancer and that Iranian doctors removed a melanoma from his back.

On Wednesday evening, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson reached out to Iran on the family's behalf to ask for an immediate humanitarian medical evacuation.

“Not only will this allow Michael to receive additional treatment here in the United States, but it will help protect Iranian citizens from further exposure and free up their own medical personnel to treat their own citizens," the statement said.

Last week, prison authorities in the northeastern city of Mashhad handed White over to a team from Switzerland, which represents US interests in the absence of diplomatic relations, and flown to the capital Tehran.

In-depth: Coronavirus 'inching closer' to dual national political inmates at Iranian prison

Following his release, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: "The United States will continue to work for Michael's full release as well as the release of all wrongfully detained Americans in Iran."

Iran is one of the countries worst hit by the COVID-19 coronavirus, with a death toll of over 2,000, and has ordered the temporary release of some 80,000 prisoners.

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